Virgin Galactic Spaceship-Launching Jet Damaged in ‘Minor’ Runway Accident

Virgin Galactic's Private Spaceship Makes First Crewed Flight
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. (Image credit: Virgin Galactic.)

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

Thehuge mothership jet built to launch suborbital spaceships for Virgin Galacticsuffered a collapsed landing gear Thursday morning when it landed in California's MojaveDesert, 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 "The left main landing gear was damaged. This appears at this time to be an incident and not an accident."

Amechanical problem with the left main landing gear on the WhiteKnightTwo jetcaused the "minor incident," officials with Scaled Composites ? the Mojave-basedcompany that built the twin-fuselage carrier plane ? said in a Thursdaystatement. [Photos:WhiteKnightTwo in Flight]

Therunway incident at the Mojave Air and Space Port did not involve VirginGalactic's SpaceShipTwo,the suborbital passenger-carrying spacecraft designed to be carried into launchposition by WhiteKnightTwo. SpaceShipTwo is also built by Scaled Composites.

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

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

ScaledComposites was founded by veteran aerospace designer Burt Rutan. The company isdeveloping the SpaceShipTwo spacecraft and their WhiteKnightTwo motherships forVirgin Galactic.

SpaceShipTwois 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 gohigh enough to enter Earth orbit.

Theflights will provide a weightless experience and a view of the blackness ofspace and glowing Earth below. Tickets cost $200,000 per person. VirginGalactic was founded by British billionaire Sir Richard Branson.

Rutanand Scaled Composites also built SpaceShipTwo's predecessor, the smallersuborbital 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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Denise Chow
NBC News science writer

Denise Chow is a former staff writer who then worked as assistant managing editor at Live Science before moving to NBC News as a science reporter, where she focuses on general science and climate change. She spent two years with, writing about rocket launches and covering NASA's final three space shuttle missions, before joining the Live Science team in 2013. A Canadian transplant, Denise has a bachelor's degree from the University of Toronto, and a master's degree in journalism from New York University. At NBC News, Denise covers general science and climate change.