The explosion of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo (SS2) on Friday has rocked the fledgling space tourism industry with concerns that the accident, which has killed one pilot, could discourage passengers from travelling into suborbital space.
It appears though that the incident has not deterred Virgin Galactic from pursuing its dream of transporting space tourists. On Sunday, the company's chief executive officer revealed that Virgin Galactic plans to push through with the work on a second rocket plane despite the deadly crash that left one pilot dead and another seriously injured.
George Whitesides said that the company's second spacecraft is close to readiness and it could be prepared to fly by next year once the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which is currently conducting investigations on the crash, has reached its conclusions. The probe seeks to find out what caused SS2 to explode in mid-air.
"The second spaceship is very advanced in its construction," Whitesides said. "We need to work closely with the NTSB ... to work out as rapidly as we can what happened, and then to move forward. We're hopeful we can make rapid progress."
NTSB acting chairman Christopher Hart said that the investigation of the crash would take a few more days and it could take as long as one year for the final report to be made available. Investigators will likely look at the spacecraft's rocket engine, which was flying with a new type of fuel that the company has used for the first time on the day of the accident. The solid plastic-type propellant that the company used on Friday is believed to provide longer burn and give a smoother ride compared with the rubber based-fuel it used in previous flights.
Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson is also determined to move forward after the incident once the problem has been identified and fixed.
"We're determined to find out what went wrong," the 64-year old businessman said in a press conference on Saturday. "We'll learn from this, and move forward together."
Branson's company aims to bring tourists into space for a cost of $250,000 per person. Virgin Galactic has so far had over 700 reservations from future astronauts that include the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio and Stephen Hawking.
The SS2, which was intended to carry these passengers into suborbital space, was designed to accommodate two pilots and six passengers per flight. The spacecraft already completed more than 50 test flight over the course of five years.