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Virgin Orbit doesn't

First sat launch from UK soil experienced 'anomaly' after entering space, did not deploy payloads

Virgin Orbit, the Beardy Branson-backed outfit that slings satellites into space from a 747, has failed in its first attempt to launch from the UK.

As The Register reported yesterday, Virgin Orbit's plan was to take off from Cornwall and fly west over the Atlantic Ocean to an altitude of 35,000 feet before loosing a rocket designed to hoist nine satellites into orbit.

Sadly, none made it.

The mission proceeded as planned with the 747 (named “Cosmic Girl”) reaching the desired altitude and position before letting go of the rocket (named “LauncherOne”).

A few minutes later, Virgin Orbit declared that LauncherOne had reached space.

But while the craft exited Earth's atmosphere, it did not achieve orbit.

Virgin Orbit has said nothing of substance since. The Register has contacted the company, the UK Space Agency, and Spaceport Cornwall to request further information.

None have replied at the time of writing.

Speculation about the cause of the incident centers on "Newton Four", the second stage engine that LauncherOne fires multiple times to reach space, then position into desired orbits.

Virgin Orbit reported the anomaly after Newton Four had fired, suggesting it either didn't succeed in getting the rocket into the right spot or may not have reignited.

Those who watched the launch live-feed have zeroed in on the action at the 2:01:00 mark of the stream, when some odd readings were received from the rocket.

Youtube Video

Virgin Orbit explained some of the oddities in its live feed as artefacts of the difficulties involved when communicating with a rocket moving at 20,000 km/h, and the craft passing beyond the view of ground stations, and mentioned that some telemetry was therefore stored and forwarded to mission control.

But the company had no explanation when the graphic detailing the flight's progress was replaced by a page explaining that the Chrome browser had run out of memory.

Cosmic Girl made its safely back to Earth and appears to be intact and ready for future launches. Which will probably be quite some time in the future, once Virgin Orbit figures out the cause of the anomaly that disrupted this mission. ®

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