Virgin Orbit reveals more details on why UK rocket launch failed

Start the Me Up mission

The Boeing 747 named Cosmic Girl carrying Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket takes off from Spaceport Cornwall (Credits: PA)

A premature rocket shutdown during the first attempt to launch satellites from the UK was responsible for the failure of the mission, according to Virgin Orbit.

After launching from Spaceport Cornwall, the Virgin Orbit plane flew to 35,000 feet over the Atlantic where it dropped the rocket into space carrying nine small satellites.

However, organizers of the Start Me Up mission soon identified an “anomaly” and said the LauncherOne rocket failed to reach orbit.

In a statement released Thursday, Virgin Orbit said initial data indicated that the rocket’s first stage was performing as expected, that it was reaching space altitudes and that the upper stage’s stage separation and ignition were in line with the mission plan.

Later in the mission, at an altitude of about 180 km, the upper stage experienced an anomaly that prematurely ended the first burn.

The company said this event ended the mission, with the rocket components and payload falling back to Earth within the approved safety corridor without ever reaching orbit.

Virgin Orbit has launched a formal investigation into the cause of the second stage failure but hopes to return to Spaceport Cornwall for more launches later this year.

Virgin Orbit, Start Me Up Mission, Cornwall. 09.01.2023 (Image: Virgin Orbit)

The Virgin Orbit mission reached an altitude of 180 km before an anomaly caused it to abort (Image: Virgin Orbit)

Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart said: “We are all disappointed that we have not been able to achieve full mission success and provide the launch service our customers deserve.

“Once the anomaly was identified, our team immediately switched to a pre-planned investigation mode.”

He added that Virgin Orbit has launched an internal investigation into the causes of the outage.

The plane, named Cosmic Girl, took off from Cornwall Airport on Monday night with hundreds of spectators and more than 75,000 viewers watching a live stream of the event.

Named after the Rolling Stones’ 1981 hit, the mission included a converted Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 aircraft and Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket.

Originally it was hoped that the launch could take place before Christmas, but due to technical and regulatory problems it had to be postponed to 2023.

The aircraft took off horizontally from the new facility at Cornwall Airport in Newquay while carrying the missile under one wing.

MORE: UK’s historic rocket launch ended in failure – so what went wrong?

MORE : Britain’s first rocket launch on ‘Cosmic Girl’ 747 aborted mid-flight Virgin Orbit reveals more details on why UK rocket launch failed

Justin Scacco

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