UK’s first space launch fails to reach orbit
It wasn’t the weather that put paid to the UK’s first space launch, but a problem with the second stage firing
After successfully taking off from the runway at Spaceport Cornwall last night, the customized 747 released the LauncherOne rocket that carries the payload to orbit.
The rocket then ignited its engines, successfully reaching space, says Virgin Orbit. The flight then continued through successful stage separation and ignition of the second stage. However, at some point during the firing of the rocket’s second stage engine and with the rocket travelling at a speed of more than 11,000 miles per hour, the system experienced an anomaly, ending the mission prematurely.
The rocket carried nine small satellites, all of which were destroyed.
Out of five previous LauncherOne missions in the US carrying payloads for private companies and governmental agencies, this is the first to fall short of delivering its payloads to their precise target orbit.
“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,” said Dan Hart, CEO of Virgin Orbit. “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.”
Scottish space launch
Matt Archer, Director of Commercial Spaceflight at the UK Space Agency, said: “Last night, Virgin Orbit attempted the first orbital launch from Spaceport Cornwall. We have shown the UK is capable of launching into orbit, but the launch was not successful in reaching the required orbit. We will work closely with Virgin Orbit as they investigate what caused the anomaly in the coming days and weeks. While this result is disappointing, launching a spacecraft always carries significant risks. Despite this, the project has succeeded in creating a horizontal launch capability at Spaceport Cornwall, and we remain committed to becoming the leading provider of commercial small satellite launch in Europe by 2030, with vertical launches planned from Scotland.”
Melissa Thorpe, Head of Spaceport Cornwall, added: “We are so incredibly proud of everything we have achieved with our partners and friends across the space industry here in the UK and in the US – we made it to space – a UK first. Unfortunately we learned that Virgin Orbit experienced an anomaly which means we didn’t achieve a successful mission. Yes, space is hard, but we are only just getting started.”