Virgin Orbit terminates first rocket launch

Image credit: wikicommons

The first rocket launch from Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit has failed, with the firm pulling the plug on the trial soon after igniting its booster engine.

The rocket was being carried on the back of a Boeing 747 and was released over the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Southern California. The mission marked the first trial of Virgin Orbit’s air-launched rocket.

An anomaly occurred early in first stage of its flight, forcing the firm to terminate the mission early and resulting the loss of the rocket and test satellite it was carrying.

Will Pomerantz, Virgin Orbit’s vice president for special projects, said that about half of first rocket launches fail: “History is not terribly kind, necessarily, to maiden flights,” he said.

virgin orbit failed launch

Image credit: virgin orbit

Virgin Orbit ultimately wants to take a significant share of the rising demand for launching small satellites. Currently the market is hamstrung by the need to rely on the very limited capacity for ride sharing on rockets involved in larger missions.

Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart was still relatively upbeat about his firm’s failed launch.

“Our team performed their prelaunch and flight operations with incredible skill today,” he said. “Test flights are instrumented to yield data and we now have a treasure trove of that. We accomplished many of the goals we set for ourselves, though not as many as we would have liked.”

“Nevertheless, we took a big step forward today.  Our engineers are already poring through the data. Our next rocket is waiting. We will learn, adjust, and begin preparing for our next test, which is coming up soon.”

The modified jumbo jet took off from Mojave Air and Space Port in the desert north of Los Angeles and flew out just beyond the Channel Islands, where the drop occurred.

There was no immediate word on what went wrong with the rocket, although the purpose of the flight was to gather data on every step of the launch process rather than to have a useful satellite in orbit

The attempt followed five years of development of the 21.3m long LauncherOne rocket.

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