Virgin Orbit have issued an update about their investigations on the failure which meant the inaugural launch of a rocket from Spaceport Cornwall ended unsuccessfully.
After much fanfare and celebration, a fault described by Virgin Orbit as an ‘anomaly’ prevented the Launcher One rocket, containing satellites intended for space, leading to the rocket components and payload falling back to earth without achieving orbit.
Now, Virgin Orbit have revealed more details on the cause of the fault which caused the unsuccessful mission and potential future plans to return to Cornwall.
A spokesperson for Virgin Orbit said: “The Start Me Up mission was the first orbital launch attempt in history conducted from western Europe. The flight was conducted by Virgin Orbit’s air-launched LauncherOne system from the newly commissioned Spaceport Cornwall in the UK, which just a few weeks ago was transformed from a mere slab of empty cement at a commercial airport into the world’s newest space launch operations center.
“After successfully proceeding through pre-launch operations and taking off as planned from the runway at Spaceport Cornwall, Virgin Orbit’s carrier aircraft traveled to the bespoke drop zone selected for this mission and successfully released the rocket.
“The rocket then ignited its first stage engine, quickly going hypersonic and successfully completing the stage one burn. Initial data assessments indicate that the first stage of the rocket performed as expected, that the rocket reached space altitudes, and that stage separation, ignition of the upper stage, and fairing separation similarly occurred per the planned mission timeline.
“Later in the mission, at an altitude of approximately 180 km, the upper stage experienced an anomaly. This anomaly prematurely ended the first burn of the upper stage. This event ended the mission, with the rocket components and payload falling back to Earth within the approved safety corridor without ever achieving orbit.
“Virgin Orbit’s carrier aircraft and its crew returned safely to Spaceport Cornwall.”
Despite the first mission’s unsuccessful conclusion, it’s been revealed that it may not be the last time that the operator chooses Cornwall to launch another rocket into space.
While the next Virgin Orbit mission is set to take place from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California, it’s been confirmed that there could be a return to Cornwall as soon as later this year. The spokesperson added: “Virgin Orbit also anticipates returning to Spaceport Cornwall for additional launches, and is in active discussions with key government and commercial stakeholders in the UK to start planning mission opportunities for as soon as later this year.”
Dan Hart, CEO of Virgin Orbit, said: “We are all disappointed that we were not able to achieve full mission success and provide the launch service that our customers deserve. Upon identifying the anomaly, our team immediately moved into a pre-planned investigation mode. Given our four previous successful missions, which have proven our technology, our team’s deep understanding of the LauncherOne system from massive amounts of previously collected flight data, and the ample telemetry data that was collected characterizing the flight and the anomaly, I am confident that root cause and corrective actions will be determined in an efficient and timely manner. We are continuing to process and test our next vehicle per our plan and will implement any required modifications prior to our next launch.
“I also want to express my heartfelt appreciation to our team, who worked tirelessly under high pressure and difficult conditions, and most importantly to our customers, supporters, and partners in the UK, the US, and across the world. We thank you for the many expressions of confidence and support we have received over the past two days.”