CHINA TOPIX

Updated 4:59 PM EDT, Fri, Oct 11, 2019

Make CT Your Homepage

Two Space Accidents in a Week Raises Big Question about Space Flight Safety

SpaceShipTwo

(Photo : Wikipedia) SpaceShipTwo in a captive flight configuration underneath White Knight Two

Space travel enthusiasts are divided over the impact on space tourism and the space industry of two space accidents in a span of less than one week.

The Friday explosion of Virgin Atlantic's SpaceShipTwo during its pilot test of a new fuel has raised doubts about the safety of space tourism. Add this disaster to the destruction Tuesday night of the Antares rocket seconds after liftoff and you have a really bad week for space travel.

Like Us on Facebook

But experts said while the two incidents are steps backward, it won't prevent billionaire-dreamers from pushing space tourism nor will it negatively impact long-term prospects for future space missions. The twin disasters, however, can be considered major setbacks for the space venture industry.

"It's unfortunate that both mishaps happened in one week because it has an impact on people's impressions," said former NASA astronaut Leroy Chiao.

Virgin Galactic Chief Executive George Whitesides acknowledged it was a "tough day" for space travel, but the firm insisted it would move forward.

"The people that are directly involved with this effort understood the inherent risks ... This was pioneering work. Tests flights always has risks involved and those risks are taken so that they can be mitigated or eliminated as much as possible, whether it's for an airplane or space craft when they're made operational," said Xprize Foundation President and Vice Chairman Bob Weiss.

XPrize partly funded SpaceShipOne, which preceded the ill-fated SpaceShipTwo, with its award of US$10 million to the builders of the space plane.

Gizmondo reports that SpaceShipTwo's change to a new type of fuel could have caused the crash during a test flight at the Mojave Air and Spaceport in California.

Virgin Atlantic confirmed the crash of SpaceShipTwo after its 9:19 a.m. take off, resulting in the death of one person and injury to another.

According to an Aviation Week report, the ill-fated flight was trying how well a polyamide-based grain could replace rubber-based polybutadiene, the older fuel. Virgin Atlantic sought a fuel that would provide a longer and more energetic burn and lower thrust collisions.

 "During the test, the vehicle suffered a serious anomaly resulting in the loss of the vehicle. The WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft landed safely. Our first concern is the status of the pilots, which us unknown at this time," Virgin Atlantic said in a statement.

The remains of the spacecraft are scattered near Koehn Lake and all over the road, according to residents of the area.

More than just "crashing" Virgin Atlantic's space tourism ambition, the crash raised doubts about the financial viability of the New Mexico-based Spaceport America facility, which is being paid for by taxpayer funds.

Once successful, the project could create jobs and further improve the state's economy.

Virgin Atlantic's is charging US$250,000 per person that traveled on its space plane into space.

"The reason it happened in the past is because we were testing new technologies. It's happening now because we are pushing technology's boundaries, to move space exploration forward," said Pedro Llanos, teacher of space commercialization at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

"One of the inherently unique aspects of space is it is dangerous but people are willing to risk their lives for that experience ... Just like climbing Mount Everest or sky diving," according to Space Tourism Society President John Spencer.

Real Time Analytics