UK space chiefs will make a second attempt to launch satellites into orbit within a year, after the failure of last night’s Virgin Orbit launch.
Last night’s mission saw the commercial space company attempting a mid-air rocket launch over the ocean off Ireland’s south coast.
Shortly after 10pm, the customised Boeing 747 ‘Cosmic Girl’ took off from the runway at the newly opened Spaceport Cornwall with the ‘LauncherOne’ rocket under its wing.
The plane successfully released the rocket in mid-air and the rocket ignited its engines, “quickly going hypersonic and successfully reaching space”.
At some point during the firing of the rocket’s second stage engine, the system experience ‘an anomaly’, ending the mission before the rocket could reach orbit.
In a statement, Virgin Orbit said the mission pulled off “numerous significant first-time achievements” even though it failed to carry its payload of military and civilian satellites into orbit.
Excitement will be building at @SpaceCornwall tonight ahead of the UK’s groundbreaking @VirginOrbit launch. I’ll be talking to @BBCNewsnight later about the mission. It has taken a monumental effort from many to get this far. Let’s make #LaunchUK routine 🚀 #CountdownToCornwall pic.twitter.com/5vpviS1vwj
— Tim Peake (@astro_timpeake) January 9, 2023
“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 Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart.
“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.”
UK Space Agency Director of Commercial Spaceflight Matt Archer said the mission showed the UK is capable of launching into orbit despite its failure.
It is the only one of five LauncherOne missions that failed to carry its payload into orbit.
The UK Space Agency said the rocket and satellites likely burned up as they re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere, probably above the north Atlantic.
It said they presented no threat to life.
Meanwhile, Cosmic Girl safely returned to Spaceport Cornwall near Newquay.