Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo appears to have broken apart in mid-air before crashing to the ground, said federal investigators on Sunday.
“The debris field indicates an in-flight breakup,” said Christopher Hart, acting chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.
“We’ll know that for certainty when we look at all the sources we have,” he said.
The NTSB is leading the investigation into Friday`s fatal crash of SpaceShipTwo.
SpaceShipTwo, a Virgin Galactic passenger spaceship, crashed during a test flight in California`s Mojave Desert, killing one pilot and critically injuring another one.
According to a report published Sunday in the Wall Street Journal, preliminary data gathered in the Virgin accident indicates that a structural failure, and not an engine explosion, led to the crash.
Citing a source familiar with the nascent investigation, the report said video and early data was focusing on “aerodynamic forces” that could have led to its downing.
Virgin Galactic`s owner, British billionaire and entrepreneur Richard Branson, travelled to Mojave on Saturday following the fatal crash to meet with his team and NTSB investigators.
Branson said he was determined to uncover the cause of the crash and said he believed the dream of space tourism for everyday passengers would live on.
New spaceship by next year.
Meanwhile, George Whitesides, Virgin Galactic`s chief executive, told the Financial Times in an interview published on Sunday that Virgin Galactic could have a new spacecraft ready to fly by next year.
Depending on what accident investigators find, Virgin Galactic may be required to make changes to its spaceship well before the final NTSB report is issued.
“We would report on anything that required immediate response and should not wait until the completion of our report,” NTSB chairman Hart said.