Virgin Orbit's mission to launch satellites ended unsuccessfully as an “anomaly” in the second stage of acceleration ended the launch

Virgin Orbit’s mission to launch satellites ended unsuccessfully as an “anomaly” in the second stage of acceleration ended the launch

Last night’s attempt by Virgin Orbit to launch satellites off the southwest coast of Ireland ended unsuccessfully as an “anomaly” in the second stage of acceleration ended the mission.

The group had planned to be the first to launch satellites into space from Europe by using a converted 747-jet nicknamed Cosmic Girl, which carried a rocket it would launch mid-air at an altitude of 10,668m. The rocket carried nine toaster sized satellites which would have been the first satellites launched into space from European soil.

BIM RNLI man overboard training

Irish fishing vessels had been warned by the Department of Transport to evacuate an area of sea, southwest of counties Cork and Kerry in case of falling debris from the rocket launch, but expert Space Commentator, Leo Enright on RTÉ Six-One News disagreed with the Department’s belief that there was a risk posed by falling debris.

He said, “They will pass Portugal before the first part of the rocket will pass away. The first real risk is actually off the coast of Portugal and then it enters space over Antarctica.”

Asked if these type of rocket launches usually dangerous, Mr Enright replied, “No, is the blunt answer to that. There is no appreciable risk to human life from this launch,” but he did state that similar notices are issued for air shows in order to keep people safe.

Fishing boats have been advised to avoid an area off southwest Ireland tonight due to the fear of potential rocket debris falling from the sky

The area Irish fishing boats were told to evacuate for last night’s launch

In a press release after the event, Virgin Orbit said:

“The historic first attempt to launch satellites from British soil reached space late last night, but ultimately fell short of reaching its target orbit.”

After successfully taking off from the runway at Spaceport Cornwall – which just a few weeks ago was transformed from a mere slab of empty cement at a commercial airport to the world’s newest space launch operations centre – and travelling to the designated drop zone, Cosmic Girl, the customized 747 that serves as the LauncherOne system’s carrier aircraft, successfully released the rocket. 

The rocket then ignited its engines, quickly going hypersonic and successfully reaching space. The flight then continued through successful stage separation and ignition of the second stage. However, at some point during the firing of the rocket’s second stage engine and with the rocket travelling at a speed of more than 11,000 miles per hour, the system experienced an anomaly, ending the mission prematurely.

Though the mission did not achieve its final orbit, by reaching space and achieving numerous significant first-time achievements, it represents an important step forward. The effort behind the flight brought together new partnerships and integrated collaboration from a wide range of partners, including the UK Space Agency, the Royal Air Force, the Civil Aviation Authority, the US Federal Aviation Administration, the National Reconnaissance Office, and more, and demonstrated that space launch is achievable from UK soil.

Out of five LauncherOne missions carrying payloads for private companies and governmental agencies, this is the first to fall short of delivering its payloads to their precise target orbit.”

Virgin Orbit’s historic attempt to launch satellites ends unsuccessfully

by editor time to read: 7 min