A California Division of Occupational Safety and Health report said the blast occurred three seconds after the start of a cold-flow test of nitrous oxide — commonly known as laughing gas — which is used in the propulsion system of SpaceShipTwo. The engine was not firing during that test.
An accident of a similar nature occurred seven years ago. During a propellant flow testing on SpaceShipTwo on July 26, 2007, an explosion killed three people and seriously injured three others at Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, California.
SpaceShipTwo was intended to be a suborbital, spaceplane designed for space tourism, with a seat on each voyage going for $250,000. The Spaceship Company is responsible for building Virgin Galactic's space vehicles.
Virgin Group Founder Richard Branson posted an update on his official Twitter page at 1 p.m. Friday, stating:
"Thoughts with all @virgingalactic & Scaled, thanks for all your messages of support. I'm flying to Mojave immediately to be with the team."
As of 2:05 p.m. Pacific Standard Time, there had been no updates yet as to the cause of the anomaly as the team mourns the loss of their pilot. More details to follow.