From the Denver Post
MOJAVE, Calif.—A fatal explosion at a Mojave Desert airport during testing of a propellant system for a new space tourism vehicle has shaken a small community that prides itself as the hometown of the first private space launch. The blast Thursday at a remote test facility belonging to Scaled Composites LLC killed three workers and critically injured three others.
The company, headed by maverick aerospace designer Burt Rutan, made history in 2004 when its SpaceShipOne became the first private manned rocket to reach space. Since that milestone, Rutan has partnered with British billionaire Richard Branson to build a fleet of commercial vehicles dubbed SpaceShipTwo for Virgin Galactic.(...)
Rutan, who arrived at Mojave after the accident, is tightlipped about his projects and gave little information about the test. But he said it had been done safely many times during the SpaceShipOne program and had been done once before for the SpaceShipTwo program. (...) Rutan had been secretly developing SpaceShipTwo in a hangar closed to the public. He had not publicly released a schedule for completion of the design, testing and first launch. Rutan said the accident would not change that.
Branson has invested at least $200 million for a fleet of Rutan's spaceships to send paying tourists some 62 miles above Earth for $200,000 to experience the view from space and five minutes of weightlessness. Earlier this year, Branson told a trade show the new ship would be ready within a year and, after a year of flight tests, would have its first commercial launch in 2009.