An investigation into the deadly crash of a Virgin Galactic spaceship could take months. As Joel Flynn reports the accident raises serious questions about the immediate future of space tourism.
It's an industry that's barely off the ground. But the limits of space tourism have been brought sharply into focus with the crash of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo. The aircraft was conducting a test flight above California's Mojave desert, one pilot lost his life. Questions are now being asked about the future of the industry, and of Virgin Galactic itself. Virgin's founder, Richard Branson is promising to look at all safety aspects. SOUNBITE: Virgin Group Head, Richard Branson, saying (English): "We will then have to see if there's anything we have do to address it, to make 100 percent sure it doesn't happen again, and then we can move forward. We have a wonderful, wonderful team of people and they want to get to work on completing the second spaceship, beginning work on the third spaceship, and getting everything back on track again." The space industry in the UK alone is reportedly worth 11 billion pounds a year. But the technological challenges are huge. A descent tool is being examined as a possible cause of the crash. But even as the investigation gets underway some are still keen to see Virgin and Branson's SpaceShip series develop further. Imperial College space physicist Dr Martin Archer. SOUNDBITE: Imperial College London Space Physicist, Dr Martin Archer, saying (English): "This is very different, it's more like a space plane, and therefore it's very different, and it's brand new and it's almost like that pioneering work into space in the 60s and 70s. So you've got to be aware about the risks involved, and as we can see that there are things that can go wrong." About 800 people have already put down deposits for the ride - which will cost about $250,000. But UK media reports suggest Virgin Galactic's founder, the Virgin Group, is having to cover budget holes. A small price to pay, perhaps though, for the next generation of space flight. SOUNDBITE: Imperial College London Space Physicist, Dr Martin Archer, saying (English): "We're on the brink of a new space age, where NASA wants to send people to the moon again by 2020, and eventually try and send people to Mars, so we're going to see developments again, there's going to be a reinvigoration in that and with all these commercial companies also pitching in, it just makes things more exciting, potentially, in the future." The future for Virgin Galactic might now seem a little further ahead. Branson had been hoping to make his first test flight in February - that's now not going to happen.