UK space sector looking for bright spots after first orbit launch from Western Europe andended in failure.
The mission seems to have started smoothly. Around 10 p.m. GMT on Monday, the Boeing 747 carrying Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket has succeeded took off in the South West of England.
The jet then climbed to about 35,000 feet before launching the rocket over the Atlantic Ocean. But then disaster struck.
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“We appear to have an anomaly that has prevented us from reaching orbit. We are evaluating the information,” Virgin Orbit announced on Twitter.
We seem to have an anomaly that prevented us from reaching orbit. We evaluate the information.
– Virgin Orbit (@VirginOrbit) January 9, 2023
The US company quickly provided further details. The problem had appeared during the firing of LauncherOne’s second stage engine, while the rocket was traveling at over 11,000 mph.
All nine satellites on board were lost. Among them was Amber-1, which was developed by UK’s Satellite Applications Catapult and Horizon Technologies for maritime tracking.
“We will come back stronger.
Paul Febrve, CTO at Satellite Applications Catapult, said the failure was a big setback for everyone involved, but a “minor breach” in the UK’s space strategy.
“It’s a tough blow, but it’s not a crippling blow,” Febrve told TNW. “We will learn from it, come back stronger and improve the capabilities we have in the UK. »
This capacity rests on solid foundations. As an island with a northern latitude, Britain has a geography conducive to launching satellites in polar and sun-synchronous orbits, which pass over the north and south poles.
There are several compelling reasons to exploit these strengths. One is the growing demand for digital connectivity across the globe, which cannot be met using terrestrial infrastructure alone.
Another motive was starkly brought to light by Russia’s war in Ukraine. The February Invasion revealed the need to rapidly deploy small satellites for military intelligence, which increased the demand for launches in Europe.
The United Kingdom presented itself as the ideal supplier of these spaceports. In addition to its favorable geography, the country is a major satellite producer, hosting many private space companies and the first nation in Europe to implement new spaceflight laws.
Seven spaceports across Britain are currently under development. They are unlikely to provide launch pads for moon missions, but they could offer promising locations for smaller satellites.
“This particular vehicle was carrying satellites from seven different vendors, each doing different things. They were really handcrafted for their purpose,” Febvre said.
“We’re really focused on responsive launch and innovation – not the scaling aspect.”
“WWe remain determined to become the leading European supplier.
Febvre found another source of hope in what has already been achieved. Although Monday’s mission fell short of its ultimate goal, it proved that space launches are feasible from British soil.
The attempt will also improve national expertise, regulation and capacity.
“The project has successfully created horizontal launch capability at Spaceport Cornwall, and we remain committed to becoming the leading commercial launch provider of small satellites in Europe by 2030, with vertical launches planned from Scotland,” Ms.att Archer, director of commercial spaceflight at the British Space Agency, said in a statement.
As the satellites were insured, their manufacturers and operators will be compensated for their loss. A bigger problem will be reputational damage.
Setbacks in space are not unusual, but they still scare off investors. Virgin Orbit must now convince critics that failure will not happen again. The UK, meanwhile, is already planning another launch within the next 12 months.