Branson says 'no explosion' behind spacecraft crash

LONDON - Richard Branson, the British billionaire founder of Virgin Galactic, on Monday hit out against "self-proclaimed experts" asserting an explosion was behind the crash of the company's spacecraft last week.

Evidence showed there was "no explosion" behind the deadly crash last Friday of SpaceShipTwo, he told Sky News television.

"I've never seen such irresponsible innuendo and damaging innuendo," the tycoon said.

Branson also vowed to "push on" with Virgin's passenger travel space programme once the reasons behind the accident, in which one test pilot died, had been worked out and corrected.

Branson stressed that the US National Transportation Safety Board investigating the crash had found that the spacecraft's fuel tanks and engine found in the Mojave Desert in California were not broken apart.

"The fuel tanks and the engine were intact, showing there was no explosion, despite a lot of self-proclaimed experts saying that was the cause," he said.

Branson said sensationalist press reports about the crash had been "incredibly hurtful" adding that some of the journalists "should hang their heads in shame".

The crash of SpaceShipTwo is a major setback to Branson's ambition to start ferrying wealthy customers to the edge of space, charging $250,000 (S$321,950) per ticket.

But the serial entrepreneur made clear he was unbowed in his ambition.

"We must push on," he said. He adding though: "We will not fly members of the public unless we can fly myself and family members." "I'm absolutely convinced that Virgin Galactic has a great future once the NTSB has made clear exactly what happened," he said.

The investigation into the crash is ongoing and is not expected to conclude for another year.

However a rocket science safety expert on Sunday toild AFP that Virgin Galactic had ignored multiple warnings about the spacecraft's motor and the fuel used since a 2007 incident in which three engineers were killed testing a rocket on the ground.

"I warned them... that the rocket motor was potentially dangerous," said Carolynne Campbell from the Netherlands-based International Association for the Advancement of Space.