Virgin Galactic Spaceship-Launching Jet Damaged in ‘Minor’ Runway Accident
The Virgin Galactic suborbital spaceliner SpaceShipTwo makes its first crewed flight on July 15,2010 over the Mojave Desert in California, one of a series of test flights before the first free flight of the passenger ship for space tourism flights. Full story.
Credit: Virgin Galactic.

This story was updated at 12:08 p.m. EDT.

The huge mothership jet built to launch suborbital spaceships for Virgin Galactic suffered a collapsed landing gear Thursday morning when it landed in California's Mojave Desert, according to officials at the Federal Aviation Administration. No injuries have been reported.

"Two FAA inspectors were on scene to examine the aircraft," Ian Gregor, a spokesman for the FAA, told SPACE.com. "The left main landing gear was damaged. This appears at this time to be an incident and not an accident."

A mechanical problem with the left main landing gear on the WhiteKnightTwo jet caused the "minor incident," officials with Scaled Composites ? the Mojave-based company that built the twin-fuselage carrier plane ? said in a Thursday statement. [Photos: WhiteKnightTwo in Flight]

The runway incident at the Mojave Air and Space Port did not involve Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo, the suborbital passenger-carrying spacecraft designed to be carried into launch position by WhiteKnightTwo. SpaceShipTwo is also built by Scaled Composites.

WhiteKnightTwo is a specially designed jet-powered mothership, built to haul the SpaceShipTwo spacecraft to a release altitude of approximately 50,000 feet (15,240 meters).

The aircraft was on its 37th test flight, and has been flying since December 2008.

Scaled Composites was founded by veteran aerospace designer Burt Rutan. The company is developing the SpaceShipTwo spacecraft and their WhiteKnightTwo motherships for Virgin Galactic.

SpaceShipTwo is built to carry eight people (six passengers and two pilots) on suborbital flights that would reach outer space for a few minutes, though would not go high enough to enter Earth orbit.

The flights will provide a weightless experience and a view of the blackness of space and glowing Earth below. Tickets cost $200,000 per person. Virgin Galactic was founded by British billionaire Sir Richard Branson.

Rutan and Scaled Composites also built SpaceShipTwo's predecessor, the smaller suborbital craft SpaceShipOne, financed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, which won the $10 million Ansari X prize for reusable, manned suborbital spacecraft in 2004.

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