First Virgin Orbit UK launch fails

First Virgin Orbit UK launch fails

First Virgin Orbit UK launch fails

SEATTLE — Virgin Orbit’s first launch from the UK failed to reach orbit on Jan. 9, inflicting a high-profile setback on a financially struggling company.

Virgin Orbit’s Boeing 747 plane took off from Spaceport Cornwall in southwest England at around 5:02 p.m. Eastern Time for the company’s ‘Start Me Up’ mission, the sixth mission LauncherOne for the company, but the first to fly from anywhere other than Mojave Air and Spaceport.

The aircraft traveled to its designated drop location over the Atlantic Ocean off the southern coast of Ireland and dropped the LauncherOne rocket at around 6:11 p.m. Eastern Time. While telemetry during the live webcast of the launch was unreliable, sometimes reporting what appeared to be false speed and altitude figures, the company reported seven minutes later that the upper stage and the rocket payloads had reached orbit.

“LauncherOne has succeeded in reaching Earth orbit again!” the company announced in a tweet that it was later removed. “Our mission is not yet complete, but congratulations to the British people! This is already the first ever orbital mission from UK soil – a huge achievement by @spacegovuk and their partners in government!

The launch then appeared to be in a hill phase before a second burn of the upper stage NewtonFour engine, followed by deployment of the payload. But nearly half an hour after announcing it had reached orbit, the company suddenly revealed that the launch had rather failed.

“We appear to have an anomaly that has prevented us from reaching orbit. We are evaluating the information,” the company said. The company did not provide any further information about the anomaly, including what flight state it was in. happened and why the company incorrectly reported having reached orbit.He confirmed that the Boeing 747 had landed safely at Spaceport Cornwall.

The Start Me Up mission carried nine small satellites for the rocket to deploy into a sun-synchronous orbit at an altitude of around 555 kilometers. The launch was purchased by the US National Reconnaissance Office, with the primary payload being a pair of cubesats called Prometheus-2 built by the UK Ministry of Defence’s Defense Science & Technology Laboratory (DSTL).

The launch’s other payloads were a pair of cubesats called CIRCE developed by DSTL and the US Naval Research Laboratory; a navigation technology demonstration cubesat called DOVER built by Open Cosmos; ForgeStar-0, the first satellite from Space Forge, a space manufacturing start-up based in Wales; IOD-3 AMBER, the first in a constellation of maritime domain reconnaissance satellites for UK-based Horizon Technologies; the STORK-6 imaging cubesat for the Polish company SatRevolution; and AMAN, the first cubesat for the government of Oman.

The mission was highly publicized as it was the first attempt at an orbital launch from the UK, part of a UK government strategy to develop an ‘end-to-end’ space industry. The launch drew a large crowd to the spaceport, although there wasn’t much to see beyond a plane taking off at night.

“Amazing work has gone into the first ever launch of an orbital satellite in the UK tonight. Good luck to all the team” tweeted British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hours before the launch.

The launch comes after four consecutive successful LauncherOne launches, all from Mojave Air and Space Port in California, between January 2021 and July 2022. The company’s first LauncherOne launch, in May 2020, failed to reach orbit when the rocket’s first-stage engine flames out shortly after ignition.

The failure comes at a precarious time for Virgin Orbit, which is struggling to increase its launch pace and generate revenue. The company, in a Nov. 7 earnings call, said it closed the third quarter with $71 million in cash, after reporting negative free cash flow of $52.5 million. The company raised $25 million from the Virgin Group in early November and another $20 million from Virgin Investments Limited, an investment arm of the Virgin Group, on December 20.

During that Nov. 7 earnings call, the company said it would at least double its launch rate in 2023, at a time when the company planned to make three launches in 2022. The company ended 2022 with just two launches after pushing back Start Mission Me Up until January.

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