All went well during the early stages of a historic Virgin Orbit launch attempt Monday night as the rocket began its journey into space over the Atlantic Ocean southwest of Ireland.
Shortly thereafter, the LauncherOne rocket was dropped Cosmic Girl Aircraft, its NewtonThree main engine firing gracefully, and the first stage climbed toward orbit. The first stage engine shutdown appeared to be nominal while the second stage ignited to complete the 8.5 minute burn into low earth orbit.
Unfortunately, after this point, the information from Virgin Orbit’s webcast and its Twitter feed became confusing. Although the webcast telemetry data indicated that the missile’s altitude was beginning to decrease, the presenter said nothing about this, instead explaining that the telemetry data from the missile could be erratic. And a few minutes later, Virgin Orbit tweeted that their rocket and nine payloads had successfully reached orbit.
Only they didn’t have that. Thirty-five minutes after the rocket fired, and long after it should have reached orbit, the company tweeted that a problem had arisen. “We seem to have an anomaly that prevented us from reaching orbit. We evaluate the information.” The company announced this via Twitter. The earlier tweet claiming mission success has been deleted.
Although the webcast lasted about half an hour longer, Virgin Orbit did not provide any further information on the anomaly that caused the upper stage and its payloads to fail to reach orbit.
This will likely be a devastating launch failure for Virgin Orbit, a US-based small launch company trying to carve out its niche in the launch market. Ahead of Monday’s launch, the company achieved orbit on four of its first five attempts, a good tally for a startup rocket company. But it struggled to achieve a high cadence of missions, a requirement for breaking even financially by cashing launch contract checks.
Monday’s attempt from Britain – a historic first orbital launch attempt by that nation – was a high-profile opportunity to show investors what the company is capable of and to impress British officials, who were present to watch the rocket plane launch from a spaceport in the South West England.
British officials had been working for eight years to equip Spaceport Cornwall, which is located on the site of Newquay Airport, a former Royal Air Force base, with a horizontal launch facility. During that time, officials from the Cosmodrome, the UK Space Agency and Virgin Orbit have worked to address regulatory concerns about the handling of the rocket in Cornwall and its launch over international waters in south-west Ireland.
Now the first orbital launch attempt from Great Britain has failed. British officials, who might need to be persuaded to keep the company financially stable, were likely unimpressed. So did the rocket’s customers, which included the United States and United Kingdom governments. For Virgin Orbit, the first launch attempt from the UK was a charge Tosh.
This article was previously published on Source link