(CBS SF) -- SpaceShipTwo, a commercial aircraft designed for suborbital space tourism malfunctioned and went down over California's Mojave Desert Friday morning, apparently killing one of two pilots.
Virgin Galactic, which created the vehicle in partnership with The Spaceship Company, confirmed that something had gone wrong in a tweet:
Later, the company confirmed the loss of the craft in the following statement:
"Virgin Galactic's partner Scaled Composites conducted a powered test flight of SpaceShipTwo earlier today. During the test, the vehicle suffered a serious anomaly resulting in the loss of the vehicle. Our first concern is the status of the pilots, which is unknown at this time. We will work closely with the relevant authorities to determine the cause of the accident and provide updates as soon as we are able to do so."
Founder Richard Branson is on his way to the crash scene.
The California Highway Patrol says there is one fatality and one major injury.
NASA administrator Charles Bolden said, "On behalf of the entire NASA family, I offer our deepest condolences to the family and loved ones of the pilot lost in today's accident involving Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo, and we are praying for a speedy recovery of the other pilot."
Bolden added, "While not a NASA mission, the pain of this tragedy will be felt by all the men and women who have devoted their lives to exploration. Space flight is incredibly difficult, and we commend the passion of all in the space community who take on risk to push the boundaries of human achievement."
This setback for commercial manned spaceflight is the second disaster this week involving private aerospace companies doing the work formerly only performed by NASA.
On Tuesday evening a privately built, jointly operated Orbital Systems rocket carrying a cargo module for the International Space Station and experiments from local students exploded shortly after liftoff. It was an unmanned rocket.
DISASTER FOR PRIVATE SPACE CONTRACTORS: Unmanned Cargo Rocket Explodes
Virgin Galactic / Scaled Composite's SpaceShipTwo is typically flown by two pilots.
SpaceShipTwo has been under development at Mojave Air and Spaceport in the desert northeast of Los Angeles.
SpaceShipTwo is carried aloft by a specially designed double-jet and then released before igniting its rocket for a suborbital thrill ride into space and then a return to Earth as a glider.
This craft is the second version of the SpaceShipOne craft that won the X PRIZE in 2004, taking home a $10 million prize for reaching 100 kilometers in space. The accomplishment helped further fuel the push toward private space tourism.
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