The investigation into the Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo crash in California’s Mojave Desert could take about a year, the head of the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has said.
Christopher Hart said Virgin Galactic would be able conduct further test flights while the investigation took place.
SpaceShipTwo broke up in mid-air during a test flight on October 31.
One of the pilots was killed and the other injured.
Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson says he is “determined to find out what went wrong” and learn from the tragedy.
The NTSB team had completed its first full day of investigation, Christopher Hart said, and would be examining evidence at the scene for four to seven days.
He said the craft’s debris was spread over an area measuring five miles from end to end.
Christopher Hart told a news conference the test flight had been “heavily documented” and his team would have to trawl through “extensive data”, which was why the full investigation could take “about 12 months or so”.
Peter Siebold, right, survived the incident but his co-pilot, Michael Alsbury, died
He said there were six cameras on the craft itself, with another three on its launcher, an aircraft called WhiteKnightTwo, although it was unclear whether SpaceShipTwo’s cameras had been found.
The co-pilot who died when SpaceShipTwo disintegrated shortly after take-off was named as 39-year-old Michael Alsbury.
The pilot who survived was identified as Peter Siebold. Scaled Composites, the company both pilots worked for, said Peter Siebold, 43, was “alert and talking with his family and doctors”.
Christopher Hart said his team was waiting for doctors to allow them to interview Peter Siebold.
Speaking earlier at the at the Mojave Air and Space Port, where the craft was being developed, Richard Branson said “nobody underestimates the risks involved in space travel”.
Virgin Galactic had hoped to launch commercially in 2015. It has already taken more than 700 flight bookings at $250,000 each, with Sir Richard pledging to travel on the first flight.
The spacecraft was flying its first test flight for nine months when it crashed near the town of Bakersfield.
Virgin Galactic said SpaceShipTwo had experienced “a serious anomaly” after it separated from WhiteKnightTwo.
SpaceShipTwo craft was using a new type of rocket fuel never before used in flight, although officials said it had undergone extensive ground testing.
US authorities are investigating why Virgin Galactic’s space rocket crashed over California’s Mojave desert on a test flight.
One pilot died and the other was badly injured when SpaceShipTwo exploded shortly after take-off on October 31.
A National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) team arrived in Mojave on November 1 and was heading to the crash site.
Virgin Group founder Richard Branson said he was “determined to find out what went wrong” and learn from the tragedy.
The dead pilot was named as 39-year-old Michael Alsbury. The pilot who survived Friday’s crash has not been identified.
Speaking at the at the Mojave Air and Space Port, where the craft was being developed, Richard Branson said “nobody underestimates the risks involved in space travel”.
SpaceShipTwo was flying its first test flight for nine months when it crashed shortly after take-off near Bakersfield (photo EPA)
Virgin had hoped to launch commercially in 2015. It has already taken more than 700 flight bookings at $250,000 each, with Richard Branson pledging to travel on the first flight.
“We owe it to our test pilots to find out what went wrong, and once we find out, if we can overcome it, we will make sure that the dream lives on,” Richard Branson added.
Richard Branson said Virgin Galactic and its partners had “been undertaking a comprehensive testing program for many years and safety has always been our number one priority”.
A team of between 13 and 15 NTSB investigators – including specialists in structures, systems, engines and vehicle performance – arrived in Mojave on Saturday morning and would begin on-site work later in the day, NTSB acting chairman Christopher Hart said.
Their work would include detailed examination of all available data, work at the crash site and interviewing witnesses, Christopher Hart said.
“This was a test flight and test flights are typically very well documented in terms of data,” he added.
Wreckage from the crash is scattered across a large area of the Mojave desert, north-east of Los Angeles. Police secured the site amid fears that some of the debris could be explosive.
SpaceShipTwo was flying its first test flight for nine months when it crashed shortly after take-off near Bakersfield.
In a statement, the company said SpaceShipTwo experienced “a serious anomaly” after the craft separated from its launcher, an aircraft called WhiteKnightTwo.
WhiteKnightTwo landed safely.
It later emerged that the space craft was burning a new type of rocket fuel never before used in flight, although officials said it had undergone extensive ground testing.
Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo space tourism craft crashed in Mojave desert killing at least one person, the California Highway Patrol has said.
The craft was flying a manned test when it experienced what the company described as “a serious anomaly”.
SpaceShipTwo is carried aloft by a jet, then launched into sub-orbit.
Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson tweeted he was flying to California “to be with the team”.
“Thoughts with all @virgingalactic & Scaled, thanks for all your messages of support,” Richard Branson said.
Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo space tourism craft crashed in Mojave desert killing at least one person
Television images shot from a helicopter showed what appeared to be wreckage bearing the Virgin logo.
In a statement, Virgin Galactic said the “vehicle suffered a serious anomaly resulting in the loss of SpaceShipTwo”. The aircraft that held the spaceship, known as White Knight 2, has landed safely, Virgin Galactic said.
Ken Brown, a photographer who witnessed the crash, said the craft exploded after it was released from a plane that carries it to a high altitude.
Kern County Sheriff’s spokesman told the Reuters news agency the craft’s co-pilot was killed, while the pilot ejected and was seriously injured.
Virgin Galactic has been a front-runner in the nascent space-tourism industry and Sir Richard said earlier in October he expected to see the craft make it to sub-orbital space within a few months.
More than 800 people have already paid or put down deposits for a trip on SpaceShipTwo, which costs about $200,000 per person.