Early shutdown behind Cornwall rocket launch failure

Virgin Orbit

An anomaly that “prematurely terminates” the initial combustion of a rocket launch

Virgin Orbit said the early shutdown of the rocket was behind the failure of the first satellite mission launched from the UK.

A company-operated jumbo jet carried a rocket from Newquay, Cornwall, to release it over the Atlantic Ocean.

After the rocket was fired, organizers soon identified an “anomaly” and said the rocket had failed in orbit.

Rocket fragments and the satellites it carries fell back to Earth.

Virgin Orbit said that the first data showed that the first stage of the rocket took place as expected, reached space altitudes, and the firing of the upper floor took place by separating the stage in line with the mission plan.

Later in the mission, at an altitude of about 180 km (111 mi), the upper stage experienced an anomaly that “prematurely terminated” the initial combustion.

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

Virgin Orbit said it has launched a formal investigation into the source of the phase two failure.

The company said it hopes to return to Spaceport Cornwall for additional launches earlier this year.

Rocket

Rocket

He added that “active talks” are ongoing with the government and other UK commercial partners on mission planning.

‘We’re all disappointed’

Dan Hart, CEO of Virgin Orbit, said they have launched an internal investigation into the root causes of the failure.

“We are all disappointed that we were not able to achieve full mission success and provide the launch service our customers deserve,” he said.

“Once we identified the anomaly, our team immediately went into a pre-planned investigation mode.”

Morale was high as hundreds of locals gathered at Cornwall’s Newquay Airport to watch the Cosmic Girl take off.

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

The aircraft and crew safely returned to the airport, but the eventual failure of the mission was a blow.

Melissa Thorpe, head of the Cornwall Spaceport, said the result was “absolutely depressing”.

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