This week has not been kind to the commercial spaceflight community. In addition to the explosion of the Antares rocket, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo broke up over the Mojave desert, killing one pilot and severely injuring the other.
USA Today uploaded these photographs AP photographer Kenneth Brown took of SpaceShipTwo breaking up after being released from its WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft.
— Observing Space (@ObservingSpace) October 31, 2014
SpaceShipTwo was built for Virgin Galactic by Scaled Composites. It is described on their website as a, “prototype for the world’s first commercial manned spaceship, designed to take private astronauts into space and paving the way for space transportation.”
According to SpaceNews, this test flight was SpaceShipTwo’s first powered flight in nine months and the first utilizing a new engine design that is fueled by a polyamide-based plastic.
The old design was built by the Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) and used a rubber-based fuel known as hydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene. SNC has made clear that they had no involvement in the production of this new engine. “SNC was not engaged in any manner in the pre-flight safety or technical approvals or in the flight operations of the mission conducted today,” the company said in statement.