"We Just Don't Know"
ANN REALTIME UPDATE 07.27.07 0815
EDT: Thursday's explosion at a test facility used by
Scaled Composites at California's Mojave Air And Space Port has
claimed another victim, bringing the total lost to three. Two other
workers are listed in critical condition, and one is listed in
The circumstances behind the explosion -- which the Los Angeles
Times reports occurred during a propellant systems test for the
planned SpaceShipTwo suborbital vehicle now under development at
Scaled -- remain unclear.
"We felt it was completely safe. We had done a lot of these
[tests] with SpaceShip One," Scaled founder Burt Rutan said at a
Thursday evening news conference in Mojave. The "cold
fire test" underway at the time did not involve igniting the
Scaled is reportedly looking at the flow of nitrous oxide
(more commonly known as laughing gas) through an opening in the
system during the test, as a possible cause of the blast --
which one person standing about 500 yards from the accident
site said "was louder than a sonic boom."
For the moment, answers remain elusive... and the immediate
focus at Scaled is the impact the accident will have on the small,
maverick aerospace company that rose to prominence with such
creative vehicles as the Voyager and Global Flyer round-the-world
aircraft, and the original SpaceShipOne.
"We just don't know" why the explosion occurred, a visibly
shaken Rutan said Thursday.
07.26.07 2225 EDT: Two persons were killed and
at least four injured Thursday afternoon when an explosion at a
facility used by Scaled Composites rocked the airport in Mojave,
Local media reports state a nitrous oxide tank exploded in
a remote area of the airport used for rocket testing. Four injured
workers were airlifted to medical facilities in Bakersfield,
about 60 miles west of Mojave.
Identities of the victims have not been released.
"An employee called and said there's been an explosion over at
Scaled and there was a huge sound wave," said Mike Potter, operator
of P&M Aircraft at Mojave to the Los Angeles Times. "Shortly
thereafter, the cops were all over the place."
CNN reports Scaled founder Burt Rutan was not at the facility at
the time of the blast. Rutan told the news service the
explosion occurred during a "cold fire test."
"We've lost a couple of our employees. It's a very big deal," an
obviously shaken Rutan told the AP, as he reportedly drove to the
ANN will provide more information as it becomes available.
Founded by Rutan in
1982, Scaled Composites is arguably best known for building
SpaceShipOne, the first manned civilian spacecraft. The company's
earlier projects included the Voyager round-the-world aircraft;
last year, the company's Global Flyer, piloted by Steve Fossett,
beat Voyager's time for global circumnavigation... and did it on a
single Williams turbofan.
Responsible for building and testing 10 aircraft designs, Scaled
is currently developing SpaceShipTwo -- a joint venture with Virgin
Galactic to introduce space tourism in an aircraft based on the
As ANN reported July 21,
Northrop Grumman Corp. purchased Scaled, increasing the company's
stake in the maverick aerospace company from 40 percent to 100
This is Scaled's first fatal accident.