Virgin Galactic disaster: 3 things you probably didn’t know

Cape Town – Sir Richard Branson and the Virgin group have come under fire over the past few days, after Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo crashed during a test flight over the Mojave desert on Friday.

The accident was fatal, killing the co-pilot and leaving the pilot, who ejected himself from the aircraft, seriously injured.

The crash of the vehicle, undergoing its first powered test flight since January over the Mojave Desert, 150 km north of Los Angeles, came days after another commercial space company, Orbital Sciences Inc, lost a rocket in an explosion in Virginia moments after liftoff, Reuters reports.

Also see: PICS – Virgin Galactic spaceship test ends in fatal crash

The accidents have put the risks connected to commercial space travel in the spotlight, begging the question if the world is really ready for this big next step in travel.  

Branson has vowed to find out just what caused the fatal accident, saying that they owe it to their pilots to find out exactly what went wrong.

In the meantime a few interesting facts have emerged over the weekend, some which you may not have been aware of before, or have forgotten.

Take a look:

They were testing a new type of fuel

According to Reuters, the Virgin probe will likely focus on SpaceShipTwo's rocket engine, which was flying with a new type of fuel – containing nitrous oxide aka laughing gas – for the first time. 

The company had announced in May that they were replacing the rubber-based propellant they were using in their earlier test flights, in order to get better performance.

FlightClub reports that Virgin Galactic had been warned about using nitrous oxide fuel in their rockets, with one expert even saying that she was shocked by the accident, but not so much surprised. 

Carolynne Campbell-Knight, a rocker propulsion expert from the International Association for the Advancement of Space Safety (IAASS) said that she had contacted Virgin Galactic four years ago to caution them against the use of laughing gas. She had apparently warned them that nitrous oxide had the tendency to combust completely unexpectedly, The Independent reports

Also see: Branson vows to find cause of spaceship crash

Virgin Galactic is working on another spacecraft

While the investigation into SpaceShipTwo’s crash could take up to a year, Virgin Galactic is in the process of building another spacecraft, which is 65% ready.

Time reports that the new aircraft has been under construction for the past three years and could be ready for its first test flight next year, soon after Virgin Galactic wraps up the investigation into SpaceShipTwo.

The 2007 deadly Virgin Galactic explosion

The fatal crash over the desert, has brought to mind once more another fatal explosion that happened in 2007.

AP reports that the explosion had killed three people on the ground and critically injured three others during a ground test in the development of a rocket engine for SpaceShipTwo.

Also see: Branson’s rocketry goal is long-distance travel

In a critical report put together about the incident, experts said that the public had never been fully informed about what happened.

One of the report’s co-authors, Geoff Daly, said that he had written a letter in June 2013 advising Federal Aviation Administration to put a hold on an experimental flight permit for SpaceShipTwo to ensure the safety of personnel.

Campbell-Knight happened to be the other co-author of the report and she said in a statement on her website after Friday's accident, that "if the truth about the 2007 accident had come out," the explosion that destroyed SpaceShipTwo "would probably not have happened."

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Lockdown For
Voting Booth
When assisting your child with remote learning this year, did you:
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Follow the school's comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) curriculum?
13% - 246 votes
Adjust the CSE curriculum to suit the family's morals?
24% - 447 votes
Ignore the schools CSE programme and do your own teaching?
63% - 1174 votes
Brent Crude
All Share
Top 40
Financial 15
Industrial 25
Resource 10
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes morningstar logo