Washington: Virgin Galactic spaceship plane accident should not be allowed to stifle innovation, space experts have warned.
On Oct 31, commercial spaceflight turned tragic with the fatal crash of SpaceShipTwo, the rocket plane owned by Virgin Galactic that was meant to ferry tourists and scientists to the edge of space.
“It is absolutely critical that people do not throw up their hands and say, ‘it is just too hard',” Joan Johnson-Freese, a space-policy specialist at the US Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, was quoted as saying in a Nature report.
“Accidents with new technology are inevitable. How they are handled is the true test of innovation and innovators,” he added.
The accident underscores the complexities of private spaceflight where engineering systems are designed from scratch and tested in very public view.
Many compare the endeavour to the early days of aviation when aeroplane companies crashed time and again as they tried to commercialise air transportation.
“To some degree, we are still in the infancy of spaceflight,” said Scott Hubbard, director of Stanford University’s centre of excellence for commercial space transportation in Palo Alto, California.
Commercial spaceflight will probably survive, analysts say, but only if the public is as willing to accept the risks as are aerospace experts.
“I do not mind if it takes some time to develop. I am quite convinced that commercial suborbital flight will be safe,” noted Alan Stern, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.
NASA is building a new launch system for astronauts but it is space companies that are coming up with rockets and spacecraft designs.
SpaceShipTwo is a larger, eight-seat version of SpaceShipOne, the two-seater that won the $10 million Ansari X Prize in 2004 on becoming the first private vehicle to repeatedly reach an altitude of 100 km.
Virgin Galactic had been selling seats on future flights, with up to five minutes of weightlessness, for $250,000 each.
Its customers include not only celebrities but also scientists who want to use it for microgravity studies.
A second SpaceShipTwo is about 60 percent complete, the report added.