DALLAS – The UK’s first satellite launch has ended in failure after the LauncherOne rocket containing nine satellites burned up in the atmosphere shortly before midnight UK time.
Virgin Orbit has now launched an investigation and said it was “evaluating the information” to discover the reason behind the “anomaly.”
After departing Spaceport Cornwall, located at Cornwall Airport Newquay (NQY), the repurposed ex-Virgin Atlantic (VS) Boeing 747-400 ‘Cosmic Girl’ flew west to a specified drop zone off the south-west Irish coast. The aircraft climbed to around 30,000 feet, and the rocket was successfully launched from under the jumbos wing.
Hypersonic speed was achieved, and the rocket reached space. However, when the second-stage ignition process began whilst traveling at 11,000 miles per hour, a system “anomaly” occurred, resulting in the mission’s premature end. Meanwhile, ‘Cosmic Girl’ returned to NQY and landed safely.
Melissa Thorpe, head of Spaceport Cornwall, spoke emotionally to journalists saying, “We put so much into this, everybody has, and we’re like a big family. So it is absolutely gutting.”
Meanwhile, Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart said, “While we are very proud of the many things that we successfully achieved as part of this mission, we are mindful that we failed to provide our customers with the launch service they deserve.
“The first-time nature of this mission added layers of complexity that our team professionally managed through; however, in the end a technical failure appears to have prevented us from delivering the final orbit. We will work tirelessly to understand the nature of the failure, make corrective actions, and return to orbit as soon as we have completed a full investigation and mission assurance process.”
Hart has said he hopes the company will be back at Spaceport UK later this year. “We want to be a part of the fabric of the space community here in the UK as well as globally. That’s our objective as a company,” he said.
Featured Image: The Boeing 747 returned to NQY just before midnight. Photo: Virgin Orbit.