Virgin Orbit, the Richard Branson-founded effort to launch satellites into space from a rocket that drops from beneath the wing of a Boeing 747, has suffered a failure of its first test launch.
The company's schtick is that waiting for access to a launch pad is a drag and that plane-carried rockets can therefore get your kit into space with less waiting and from more parts of the world. Launcher One, as the rocket is named, has a modest payload capability of 300kg to 500kg. But the company thinks it will be attractive because it has teed up a handful of airports from which its 747 can operate. Forget schlepping your sat to Russia, Guiana or the USA: Virgin will come to you!
The company's plans was were put to the test on Monday, with a flight that left the Mojave Air and Space Port in California and headed over the Pacific Ocean. The Virgin Orbit 747, named Cosmic Girl, did everything right and Launcher One did its job.
The live-on-Twitter event played out as follows.
We've confirmed a clean release from the aircraft. However, the mission terminated shortly into the flight. Cosmic Girl and our flight crew are safe and returning to base.— Virgin Orbit (@Virgin_Orbit) May 25, 2020
The termination was attributed to an unknown glitch in the first stage rocket.
LauncherOne maintained stability after release, and we ignited our first stage engine, NewtonThree. An anomaly then occurred early in first stage flight. We'll learn more as our engineers analyze the mountain of data we collected today.— Virgin Orbit (@Virgin_Orbit) May 25, 2020
Cue a public space bro hug.
We appreciate that, Elon. We're excited about the data we were able to get today. https://t.co/7fNEIVUdWB— Virgin Orbit (@Virgin_Orbit) May 25, 2020
The Virgin Orbit crew were disappointed but undaunted, saying that the flight proved many of the company's technologies and provided lots of data. Construction of the company's next test rocket is well advanced, too. ®