Virgin Orbit’s first UK launch fails

Virgin Orbit’s first UK launch fails

Virgin Orbit’s first UK launch fails

SEATTLE — Virgin Orbit’s first launch from the UK failed to reach orbit on January 9, a major setback for a company struggling financially.

The Virgin Orbit Boeing 747 aircraft took off from Spaceport Cornwall in southwest England around 5:02 p.m. EST for the company’s “Start Me Up” mission, the sixth LauncherOne mission for the company but the first to fly from a location other than Mojave Air and the Spaceport .

The aircraft flew to its designated drop point over the Atlantic Ocean off the south coast of Ireland and fired its LauncherOne rocket around 6:11 p.m. EST. While telemetry data during the launch live broadcast was unreliable, sometimes giving false speed and altitude data, seven minutes later the company reported that the rocket’s upper stage and payloads had reached orbit.

“LauncherOne has once again successfully reached earth orbit!” the company announced in a tweet that it later deleted. “Our mission is not over yet, but congratulations to the people of the UK! This is the first orbital mission from British soil – a huge achievement for @spacegovuk and their partners in government!”

The launch then appeared to be in the coastdown phase prior to the second burnout of the upper-stage NewtonFour engine, followed by payload deployment. But almost half an hour after announcing reaching orbit, the company suddenly revealed that the launch had failed.

“It looks like we have an anomaly that has prevented us from entering orbit. We are evaluating this information,” the company said. The company did not provide any other information about the anomaly, including what flight condition it occurred in and why the company misreported orbital achievement. This confirmed that the Boeing 747 landed safely at Cornwall Spaceport.

The Start Me Up mission involved nine small satellites that the rocket would put into a sun-synchronous orbit at an altitude of about 555 kilometers. The launch was ordered by the US National Reconnaissance Office and the main payload was a pair of cube satellites called Prometheus-2 built by the UK Ministry of Defense’s Defense Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL).

Other launch payloads include a pair of cube satellites called CIRCE, developed by DSTL and the US Naval Research Laboratory; a navigation technology demonstration satellite called DOVER built by Open Cosmos; ForgeStar-0, the first satellite of Space Force, a space manufacturing start-up based in Wales; IOD-3 AMBER, the first of a constellation of satellites recognizing the maritime domain for the British company Horizon Technologies; STORK-6 imaging satellite for the Polish company SatRevolution; and AMAN, the first cube satellite for the Omani government.

The mission received a lot of attention as it was the first attempt to launch into orbit from the UK, part of the UK government’s strategy to develop a “comprehensive” space industry. The launch drew crowds to the spaceport, even though there was little to see other than the plane taking off at night.

“Amazing work has gone into the UK’s first orbital satellite launch tonight. Good luck to the whole team” tweeted British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hours before take-off.

The launch follows four consecutive successful LauncherOne launches, all from Mojave Air and Space Port, 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 shuts down shortly after will ignite.

The outage comes at an uncertain time for Virgin Orbit, which has struggled to increase its launch rate and generate revenue. In a November 7 phone call, the company said it closed the third quarter with $71 million in cash after posting negative free cash flow of $52.5 million. The company raised $25 million from Virgin Group in early November and another $20 million from Virgin Investments Limited, the investment arm of Virgin Group, on December 20.

In a November 7 payment order, the company said it would at least double its launch rate in 2023, at a time when the company expected three launches in 2022. The company ended 2022 with only two launches after withdrawing Start Mission Me Up until January.

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