A tragic crash of an experimental spaceship during a test flight hit Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic's space travel plans yesterday. The spaceship crashed during a test flight in California killing the pilot, Reuters reported.
The space craft, SpaceShip 2, was designed and built by Scaled Composites, a Mojave, California-based subsidiary of defence contractor Northrop Grumman.
Branson's London-based Virgin Group is the owner of Virgin Galactic, which has outside investment from Aabar Investments, controlled by the Abu Dhabi government.
The company had so far spent around $500 million on development of SpaceShipTwo, and it expected to spend another $100 million before commercial service started.
The company plans to make its first test flight beyond the atmosphere before the end of year.
Around 800 people, including actor Leonardo DiCaprio and physicist Stephen Hawking, had signed up for the six-passenger flights, which would cost $250,000 per person.
Each passenger would get a window seat with another window overhead.
Branson told NBC last year that he thought most people would love the chance to go to space if they could and Virgin Galactic was guaranteeing them a return ticket.
Meanwhile, according to Ken Brown, a photographer who witnessed the blast, the spacecraft appeared to explode after being released from a carrier aircraft at high altitude, BBC reported.
One of the two pilots was killed and the other injured as he parachuted to the ground and is being treated at a local hospital, when the craft flying a manned test experienced what the company called "a serious anomaly".
He said everything seemed to be going normally when they came overhead.
He added, they released the space craft, lit the engine and it was difficult to tell how long it was but it burned for a time, and then just exploded. He said it was quite horrendous.