Richard Branson has pledged to continue the drive for space travel after the crash in the Mojave Desert of a passenger spaceship being developed by his company Virgin Galactic, that killed one pilot and seriously injured the other.

Ahead of a meeting on Saturday with the Virgin Galactic team, Branson told a news conference in California that there had been "incidents" in the early days of aviation before it became "very safe," adding he hoped people would one day be able to go to space safely.

"We would love to finish what we started some years ago and I think pretty well all our astronauts would love us to finish it... Millions of people in the world would love one day to have the chance to go to space," Branson said.

The British entrepreneur added he was "determined to find out what went wrong".

Friday's crash of the suborbital vehicle SpaceShipTwo, which was undergoing its first powered test flight since January, was the second disaster suffered by a private space company in less than a week, dealing a blow to the fledgling commercial space launch industry.

While not a NASA mission, the pain of this [latest] tragedy will be felt by all the men and women who have devoted their lives to exploration.

NASA, US space agency

On Tuesday, an Antares rocket built and launched by Orbital Sciences exploded after liftoff from Wallops Island, Virginia, destroying a cargo ship bound for the International Space Station.

In the Virgin crash, one pilot's body was found in the wreckage, while the second pilot, who ejected and parachuted to the ground, survived with serious injuries, according to Donny Youngblood, Kern County Sheriff.

The survivor was found more than a mile from the main wreckage of SpaceShipTwo near the Mojave Air and Space Port, he said. A debris field was spread over more than a mile.

Investigation launched

Both crew members were test pilots for Scaled Composites, the Northrop Grumman subsidiary that designed and built the spacecraft for Virgin and lost three other employees in a July 2007 ground test accident.

"While not a NASA mission, the pain of this [latest] tragedy will be felt by all the men and women who have devoted their lives to exploration," NASA, the US space agency, said in a statement.

The crash occurred shortly after the craft separated from the jet airplane that carried it aloft for its high-altitude launch.

Scaled Composites president Kevin Mickey told a news conference on Friday the ill-fated flight was the first using a new rocket fuel formula the company switched to in May.

Mickey said the formula "had been proven and tested on the ground" before Friday's test launch.

The US National Transportation Safety Board said it was sending one of its teams to investigate.

More than 700 people have paid or put down deposits to eventually fly aboard the spaceship, which is hauled to an altitude of about 13.7km and released by Virgin's White Knight Two carrier jet airplane.

The cost to travel on the spacecraft is $250,000, with Branson pledging to travel on the first flight.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies