On Friday the 31st of October, a test flight of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo ended in tragedy when the vehicle crashed near the Mojave Air and Space Port in California.
SpaceShipTwo was considered the frontrunner in the burgeoning industry of space tourism, with its owner, Virgin Galactic hoping to begin commercial flights to space in early 2015.
However, the vehicle, which is air launched from a mother-carrier-plane, WhiteKnightTwo, appeared to suffer an "in-flight anomaly" shortly after uncoupling from its carrier.
One pilot, named as 39 year old Michael Alsbury, died during the incident, while a second, Peter Siebold, managed to eject from the ship and was later airlifted to the hospital.
It's currently unclear what caused the vessel to disintegrate shortly after its airborne 'take-off.' Initial speculation concerned the ship's fuel - which was of an experimental sort never tested in flight conditions - however the engines and fuel supply have since been found intact by air crash investigators.
The current line of enquiry concerns the ship's 'feather' mechanism. A device which alters SpaceShipTwo's 'wings' to slow the aircraft down for re-entry. The device, which rotates the tailbooms on the craft by 90 degrees, is designed to allow for a stable reentry and return to Earth without the need for complicated small re-alignment thrusters.
The device was originally developed for the prototype SpaceShipOne 10 years ago and reportedly worked to great effect.
According to Mr. Hart of the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) the device was supposed to be engaged once the craft had reached Mach 1.4 (1,065mph; 1,715km/h), however it appears to have been deployed at Mach 1 during the test.
He claimed one of the pilots had enabled the device, but the second stage of its deployment had occurred "without being commanded."
A full investigation into the crash will reportedly take months to complete and is being conducted by the NTSB with the full co-operation of the British-owned Virgin Group.
This is the latest set-back for Virgin Galactic, which has had its maiden commercial voyage delayed several times. According to the Financial Times, the project is also facing financial difficulties, with the mother-company, Virgin Group covering the day-to-day expenses.
This the second private spacecraft crash in a week. Last Wednesday also saw Orbital Sciences Corps' unmanned ISS resupply rocket crash to Earth shortly after take-off.
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Source: BBC News