A New Zealander booked to go into space with Virgin Galactic is weighing up his plans after the company's rocket exploded yesterday.

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One dead, one injured following Virgin Galactic accident
Experts: Explosion a setback for space tourism

The space tourism rocket SpaceShipTwo exploded after take-off on a test flight in Southern California's Mojave Desert.

A pilot was killed and another injured, and the company's plans are now in disarray.

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Kiwi entrepreneur Mark Rocket, former co-director of RocketLab, was booked to go into space on SpaceShipTwo next year.

Space flights cost just over $234,000 and at least eight New Zealanders have booked, spending more than $1.8 million.

Rocket - a space enthusiast who changed his name by deed poll - was now unsure about next year's flight. "Who knows what will happen from here? It's very tragic. Everyone is concerned about the pilots."

Rocket has been vocal in encouraging others to follow suit - setting up a website to prompt other would-be commercial passenger astronauts to take the next step and support the advancement of space technology.

His belief had not been shaken by the crash. "I believe that it's crucial for humanity to shoot for the stars ... Sure, suborbital space flights offer the thrill of a lifetime, something one can always treasure, but I believe there's an even more important context to commercial space flights.

"I feel that we're on the verge of an era where space tourism will open up a plethora of exciting new technologies, many we can't yet imagine."

He said yesterday he was very sad and disappointed by the crash, which was a major setback.

Rocket said he had been contacted by Virgin Galactic and asked not to comment publicly.

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The company was still working through what had happened and what the next step would be.

"It's a pretty sad day for them. We were gearing up for it to happen next year and it was finally on track, this is a major setback."

The company founded by British billionaire Richard Branson would not say what happened other than that it was working with authorities to determine the cause of the accident.

Branson tweeted that he was flying to the area "immediately to be with the team".

Ken Brown, a photographer who witnessed the crash, said that SpaceShipTwo exploded after it was released by a plane designed to take it to high altitude and the craft ignited its rocket motor.

Brown said the wreckage fell in the desert north of Mojave Air and Space Port, where the test flight originated. The area is about 190km north of downtown Los Angeles.

The flight marked the 55th for the spaceship, which was intended to be the first of a line of craft that would open space to paying civilians. Stephen Hawking, Justin Bieber, Ashton Kutcher and Russell Brand are among celebrities to sign up for flights. Virgin Galactic reports taking deposits totalling more than $80 million from about 700 people.


- Additional reporting AAP