Spaceship Builder to Appeal Calif. Fines

Blast Investigation Delays Rocket Engine Work for SpaceShipTwo
Aerospace pioneer Burt Rutan discusses the design for SpaceShipTwo, a suborbital piloted spacecraft under construction by his firm Scaled Composites on Jan. 23, 2007. The craft will serve as the workhorse for Virgin Galactic's space tourism flights. (Image credit: Michael Soluri.)

WASHINGTON —Scaled Composites LLC is appealing $28,870 in fines the California Departmentof Industrial Relations imposed on the Mojave, Calif.-based spaceship builderin connection with a July test-stand explosion that killed three workers.

SeventeenScaled Composite employees and contractors were present when the explosionoccurred three seconds into a cold-flow test of a hybrid rocket motor thecompany is developing for VirginGalactic?s SpaceShipTwo suborbital passenger craft.

A reportreleased Thursday by California workplace safety officials said all seven ofthe Scaled Composites employees injured or killed in the July 26 incidentwere viewing the day?s nitrous oxide cold-flow test from behind a chain-linkfence. Two were killed instantly by the blast. One died on his way to thehospital.

The sixworkers who were running the test were not injured in the blast. They weresheltered in a mobile command center protected by an earthen berm.

California safety officials faulted Scaled forfailingto adequately train workers about the potential hazards of nitrous oxide.

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Editor-in-Chief, SpaceNews

Brian Berger is the Editor-in-Chief of SpaceNews, a bi-weekly space industry news magazine, and He joined SpaceNews covering NASA in 1998 and was named Senior Staff Writer in 2004 before becoming Deputy Editor in 2008. Brian's reporting on NASA's 2003 Columbia space shuttle accident and received the Communications Award from the National Space Club Huntsville Chapter in 2019. Brian received a bachelor's degree in magazine production and editing from Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.