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Business

Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket suffers failure in UK





London
CNN

Virgin Orbit’s modified Boeing 747 jet – dubbed “Cosmic Girl” – took off on Monday from Newquay in England’s Cornwall county, 245 miles west of London, in a first launch for the country from British soil. But almost two hours after the plane left the ground and the rocket fired its engines to turn toward space, Virgin Orbit revealed that the launch was a failure.

“It appears that LauncherOne has suffered an anomaly that will prevent us from entering orbit for this mission,” said Christopher Relf, ​​Director of system development and verification for Virgin Orbit, in a Virgin Orbit livestream covering the launch. LauncherOne is the name of the air-launched rocket that had a go under the wing of the Cosmic Girl plane.

No humans, only satellites, were on board the rocket, which initially appeared to launch from the 747 jet without any problems. Reif previously confirmed that the rocket’s second stage was running through orbit, and was preparing to ignite the engine for a second burn. But he later revealed that it did not go as intended.

“We are looking at the information and data we have been given,” he added. “And we will be back with you in a moment with more.”

A follow-up chirping of Virgin Orbit echoed Relf’s comments, reading: “We appear to have an anomaly that has prevented us from reaching orbit. We are evaluating the information.”

Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl flight and crew returned safely to the ground after Monday’s launch, the company confirmed on its live broadcast.

The company’s stock, which was already down nearly 9% during Monday’s trading hours, fell another 28% after hours. As of 8 PM ET, it was priced at just $1.40 per share.

Monday’s event was aims to mark the first successful launch from the UK, but technically the rocket is designed to launch while Cosmic Girl is in flight.

The modified Boeing 747 flew to about 35,000 feet (10.7 kilometers) before release the rocket attached under the wing.

Virgin Orbit expected LauncherOne to travel to between 310 and 745 miles (499 and 1,199 kilometers) above Earth’s surface and then drop nine satellites into low Earth orbit.

It was not immediately clear what caused the rocket’s failure.

The launch was intended to be the first for Virgin Orbit – a subsidiary of Richard Branson’s Virgin Group – of commercial satellites from Western Europe, and the first launch for Virgin Orbit outside the United States.

Since January 2021, the US-based company has completed four successful launches from the Mojave Desert in California. The company has also experienced a previous failure. Virgin Orbit’s first launch attempt out of California in May 2020 failed due to an engine problem.

Ahead of the flight, Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart had described the British mission as a “historic endeavour.”

“This launch represents the opening of a new era in the UK space industry and new partnerships across industry, government and allies,” he said in a statement released on Friday.

A repurposed Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 aircraft carries Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne rocket.

The satellites on board Monday were owned by seven customers, including private companies and government agencies. Among other things, the satellites were expected to be used to prevent illegal trade, smuggling and terrorism, the company said in Friday’s press release, as well as to reduce the environmental impact from production.

The mission, named “Start Me Up” after the Rolling Stones’ 1981 song, was a joint venture between Virgin Orbit, the UK Space Agency, Cornwall’s local authorities and Britain’s Royal Air Force.

The launch was expected to mark a major milestone in the UK’s growing commercial satellite sector.

The country has been working on commercial spaceports for several years in a bid to grab a bigger share of the fast-growing global space market, which Morgan Stanley estimates could be worth over $1 trillion by 2040.

The country’s £16.5 billion ($20 billion) space industry directly supported around 47,000 jobs between 2019 and 2020, according to the latest available government figures.

Ian Annett, the UK Space Agency’s deputy chief executive, said on Friday that the launch signaled a “new era” for the British space industry. [it] firmly on the map as Europe’s leading destination for the commercial launch of small satellites.”

“The development of new orbital launch capabilities is already generating growth, catalysing investment and creating jobs in Cornwall and other communities across the UK,” he added.

The small satellite launch industry is a growing business around the world, but especially in the United States. Virgin Orbit was one of the first in a long list of start-ups trying to create small rockets that could deliver light satellites into orbit quickly and cheaply – a is growing business model that has dozens of global competitors. But the industry is also known to be fickle. Other small rocket start-ups have also suffered failures in recent months and years, including US-based companies such as Firefly and Astra.





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