Virgin Galactic Spaceship Crashes During California Test Flight

Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo
Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo flies over the Mojave Desert in California April 29, 2013. Gene Blevins/Reuters

CAPE CANAVERAL Fla. (Reuters) - One person was killed and a second person seriously injured on Friday in the crash of a Virgin Galactic passenger spaceship during a test flight in the Mojave Desert in California, CNN and CNBC reported, citing the California Highway Patrol.

One of #SpaceShipTwo's twin tails lies on desert floor RT @AviationSafety: pic.twitter.com/wj3F5sBEnK

— Guy Norris (@AvWeekGuy) October 31, 2014

More than 800 people have paid or put down deposits to fly aboard the spaceship, which is carried to an altitude of about 45,000 feet and released. The spaceship then fires its rocket motor to catapult it to about 62 miles (100 km) high, giving passengers a view of the planet set against the blackness of space and a few minutes of weightlessness.

The spaceship is based on a prototype, called SpaceShipOne, which 10 years ago won the $10 million Ansari X Prize for the first privately developed manned spacecraft to fly in space.

Friday's test was to be the spaceship's first powered test flight since January. In May, Virgin Galactic and spaceship developer Scaled Composites, a subsidiary of Northrop Grumman Corp, switched to an alternative plastic-type of fuel grain for the hybrid rocket motor.

SpaceShipTwo
Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo is unveiled in Mojave, California in 2009. Phil McCarten/Files/Reuters

The accident is the second this week by a U.S. space company. On Tuesday, an Orbital Sciences Antares rocket exploded 15 seconds after liftoff from Wallops Island, Virginia, destroying a cargo ship bound for the International Space Station.