The historic first attempt to launch satellites from British soil reached space late last night, but ultimately fell short of reaching its target orbit.
After successfully taking off from the runway at Spaceport Cornwall and travelling to the designated drop zone, Cosmic Girl, the customised Jumbo Jet that serves as the LauncherOne system’s carrier aircraft, successfully released the rocket.
The rocket then ignited its engines, quickly going hypersonic and successfully reaching space. 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.
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.”
Melissa Thorpe, Head of Spaceport Cornwall, said the failure was “absolutely gutting”.
“We still don’t have a lot more information about the cause of the anomaly – it seems we will need to wait until experts have looked into the problem,” she said. “Virgin will be deep diving into the data.”
On a positive side, however, she was delighted with the way Spaceport Cornwall performed.
“The airport was amazing, the operation side of it just went completely to plan…we’re enabling access to space and and we did that today. That’s a huge win to show that we can do it here.
“Today we inspired millions, and we will continue to look to inspire millions more. Not just with our ambition but also with our fortitude. Yes, space is hard, but we are only just getting started.”