One pilot has died and another has suffered “major injury” after Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo crashed during a test flight this evening, Californian authorities said.
The company earlier reported an unspecified problem with the space tourism project - it tweeted that SpaceShipTwo had been flying under rocket power when it “experienced an in-flight anomaly”.
A witness said the craft exploded in flight after ignition and crashed in the Mojave Desert.
Kern County Fire Department said it was heading to a location in the Mojave Desert, and California Highway Patrol Officer Darlena Dotson said the agency was responding to a report of a crash in the Cantil area.
SpaceShipTwo has been under development at Mojave Air and Spaceport in the desert north-east of Los Angeles.
SpaceShipTwo is carried aloft by a specially designed jet and then released before igniting its rocket for suborbital thrill ride into space and then a return to Earth as a glider.
The company founded by British billionaire Sir Richard Branson would not say what happened other than that it was working with authorities to determine the cause of the “accident”.
Virgin Galactic has been the front-runner in the fledgling space-tourism industry.
Witness Ken Brown said the craft was released from the plane that carries it to high altitude, ignited its rocket motor and then exploded.
The photographer said there is wreckage in the desert north of Mojave Air and Space Port.
California Highway Patrol said there is one fatality and one major injury.
SpaceShipTwo is typically flown by two pilots.
Virgin Galactic confirmed the loss of the spaceship but has given no details.