Private spaceship carrier plane damaged in test

* Landing gear reportedly collapsed on runway

* Manufacturer Scaled Composites calls accident ‘minor’

* Spaceship was not attached to plane during accident

By Irene Klotz

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., Aug 20 (BestGrowthStock) – An aircraft
designed to launch Virgin Galactic’s suborbital passenger
spaceship was damaged in an accident on a California runway,
manufacturer Scaled Composites said.

In a statement on its website, Scaled, a wholly owned
subsidiary of Northrop Grumman (NOC.N: ), called Thursday’s
incident “minor” and noted that SpaceShipTwo was not attached
to the carrier aircraft, known as WhiteKnightTwo, at the time.

Aviation Week & Space Technology, an industry trade
publication, is reporting that WhiteKnightTwo’s left main
landing gear collapsed on the runway. It was not known if the
plane was taking off or landing at the time.

Scaled said no one was injured in the accident at a Mojave,
California, airport. The Federal Aviation Administration is
investigating.

WhiteKnightTwo began flying in 2008 and was making its 37th
test flight on Thursday. The aircraft is designed to carry
SpaceShipTwo to an altitude of about 45,000 feet (13,650
metres).

The six-passenger, two-pilot spaceship would then be
released so it can fire its rocket engine to punch through
Earth’s atmosphere, experience a few minutes of weightlessness
in suborbital space and then land on a runway.

Virgin Galactic, which is selling tickets to ride
SpaceShipTwo for $200,000 a seat, has signed up about 340
customers so far. The company is an offshoot of Richard
Branson’s London-based Virgin Group and hopes to begin
commercial space operations in late 2011 or 2012.

SpaceShipTwo is based on a prototype known as SpaceShipOne,
which made a trio of suborbital piloted spaceflights in 2004 to
clinch a $10 million contest for private human spaceflight.

Scaled did not say how the damage to WhiteKnightTwo will
affect the testing program for SpaceShipTwo and pilot
training.

(Editing by Jane Sutton and Eric Beech)

Private spaceship carrier plane damaged in test