First-Ever UK Satellite Launch Ends In Failure

Image credit: Virgin Orbit

First-ever satellite launch from UK soil ends in failure after ‘anomaly’ affects Virgin Orbit LauncherOne rocket

Virgin Orbit’s ambitious plan to carry out the first-ever satellite launch from UK soil has failed after the LauncherOne rocket failed to correctly deploy its cargo.

The rocket suffered an “anomaly” after its launch on Monday night, the California-based company said.

Virgin Orbit’s first attempted launch in 2020 also failed, but it has since carried out four successful satellite deployments.

LauncherOne was deployed from a converted 747 jet called Cosmic Girl that took off from Spaceport Cornwall, based at Cornwall Newquay Airport.

Image credit: Virgin Orbit satellite rocket
Image credit: Virgin Orbit

‘Start Me Up’

More than 2,000 spectators and VIPs had gathered at the airport to watch the jumbo jet take off to the sound of the Rolling Stones song “Start Me Up”, after which the mission was named.

But the spectators drifted off after Virgin Orbit said something had gone wrong, about half an hour later.

“We appear to have an anomaly that has prevented us from reaching orbit,” the company said. “We are evaluating the information.”

It is understood that LauncherOne’s first stage functioned correctly, accelerating the rocket to more than 8,000 miles per hour.

Reports said it was the second stage that failed, in which the nine onboard satellites were to be ejected into orbit.

Image credit: Virgin Orbit satellite rocket
Image credit: Virgin Orbit

Second try

Matt Archer of the UK Space Agency said the cause was still under investigation.

He said the rocket had not reached the required altitude to maintain its orbit or deploy the satellites.

The rocket’s planned trajectory would have taken it 500km above the Earth to release its satellites above Australia.

UK Space Agency deputy chief executive Ian Annett told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme the agency would “try again”.

“We get up, we go back, we try again, that’s what defines us,” he said.