Virgin Orbit claims failure was due to an “anomaly” in second-phase rocket
The UK’s first attempt to launch a commercial satellite by Virgin Orbit failed when the LauncherOne rocket suffered “an anomaly” and failed to reach orbit. This deal a blow to Virgin Orbit’s shares which fell by 20% as well as to the ambitions of the UK to get ahead of spaceports in Sweden and Norway.
The launch was supposed to prove Virgin Orbit’s horizontal launch system could fly satellites from anywhere in the world with a suitable runway. The failed attempt was from Newquay airport in Cornwall, in the extreme South-west of England.
The rocket launched from Cosmic Girl (pictured), a Boeing 747 jumbo jet converted to release LauncherOne at 35,000ft over the Atlantic Ocean. The operation seemed to have gone smoothly and Cosmic Girl was returning to base when it became clear something had gone wrong. Why exactly the second-phase engine failed has yet to be established and will be investigated by Virgin Orbit and the government.
The rocket was loaded with nine satellites, and the failure of this first effort is also a blow to the seven customers lining up for Virgin Orbit’s services.
Cornwall was the first of the UK’s seven proposed spaceports to become operational, offering horizontal launch services. Others, such as SaxaVord in the Shetlands and Sutherland, on Scotland’s north coast, will carry out vertical launches.
Research house Euroconsult estimates that 18,500 satellites weighing less than 500kg will be launched into low Earth orbit over the next decade