Will Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic space project ever take off?

A Virgin Galactic spacecraft crashed on Friday killing a test pilot.

This has put a question mark over Sir Richard Branson’s ambitious Virgin Galactic project which aims to send tourists into space in 2015.

The project is under fire for neglecting safety warnings and its financial viability.

Tomasso Sgobba, executive director of the International Association for the Advancement of Space Safety, said that Virgin’s use of hybrid solid fuel and oxygen motors posed a safety threat.

“This has created quite a lot of concerns between the safety experts that the company was potentially on a difficult path,” Sgobba told the FT.

Last year, Sgobba said that he can “easily expect an accident” to happen at Virgin Galactic.

“They [Virgin Galactic] don’t use modern techniques in putting safety into the design. They use outdated methods like testing and seeing what happens,” he told Branson’s biographer Tom Bower last year.

“I can easily expect an accident will happen. If people die, the prosecution would go through the designs and allege that “the rocket was unsafe”. And then Virgin will be prosecuted.”

The Financial Times has reported that the project is also in financial trouble as it has used up the $400m funding from Abu Dhabi government’s investment company. This has left Virgin Group to cover its own daily expenses.

Virgin Galactic chief executive George Whitesides has dismissed these concerns.

In a statement he said: “Now is not the time for speculation. Now is the time to focus on all those affected by this tragic accident and to work with the experts at the NTSB [National Transportation Safety Board], to get to the bottom of what happened on that tragic day, and to learn from it so that we can move forward safely with this important mission.”

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