Authorities in the western U.S. state of California say a space tourism rocket has crashed while on a test flight in the Mojave desert, killing one pilot and seriously injuring another.
Officials say the injured pilot ejected from the Virgin Galactic commercial spaceship before it crashed Friday. Television images showed parts of SpaceShipTwo scattered amid brush in the desert north of Los Angeles.
The CEO of Virgin Galactic -- founded by British billionaire Richard Branson -- said it will work with the relevant authorities to determine the cause of the accident. Branson said on Twitter that he is flying to California immediately.
The company plans to sell trips on SpaceShipTwo to the edge of space, about 100 kilometers above Earth. Passengers would have a few minutes of weightlessness before returning to Earth.
More than 500 people have already put down deposits to travel in the spacecraft.
Witnesses say the spacecraft crashed after it was released from a plane that carries it to a high altitude.
The chief executive of Virgin Galactic, George Whitesides, said space exploration is hard, but said the company will move forward.
"The future rests in many ways on hard days like this. We believe we owe it to the folks who were flying these vehicles as well as the folks who have been working so hard on them, to understand this and to move forward, which is what we'll do,'' said Whitesides.
It is the second accident suffered by a private U.S. space company this week. On Tuesday, an unmanned commercial rocket that was supposed to send a cargo ship to the International Space Station exploded seconds after liftoff from a NASA launch pad in the eastern state of Virginia.
Material for this report came from Reuters.