Virgin Orbit’s first-ever international launch on Monday saw the company’s LauncherOne rocket breaching the Earth’s atmosphere and entering space, but the rocket then experienced an “anomaly” and failed to deliver its payload to orbit, according to officials.
Cosmic Girl, the company’s modified Boeing 747, took off from Spaceport Cornwall in the United Kingdom before releasing the rocket shortly after 3 p.m. Long Beach time Monday. In addition to serving as Virgin Orbit’s first international launch, the event also marked the first-ever orbital launch from UK soil by any company.
“While we are very proud of the many things that we successfully achieved as part of this mission, we are mindful that we failed to provide our customers with the launch service they deserve,” CEO Dan Hart said in a statement.
“We will work tirelessly to understand the nature of the failure, make corrective actions, and return to orbit as soon as we have completed a full investigation and mission assurance process,” Hart added.
This was Virgin Orbit’s fifth mission since January 2021 and the first that failed to deliver its payload to orbit. The Long Beach-based company has delivered over 30 satellites to orbit in the last two years.
Once the LauncherOne rocket was released, it went hypersonic and successfully reached space. The flight completed a successful stage separation before igniting the second stage.
During the firing of the second stage engine, with the rocket traveling over 11,000 mph, the system experienced an “anomaly,” ending the mission prematurely, according to the company.
The mission, dubbed “Start Me Up” after the 1981 Rolling Stones song, was a joint mission between the U.S. and U.K. governments. LauncherOne had a target of delivering eight satellites to a 555-kilometer sun-synchronous orbit, including:
- IOD-3 AMBER: The first of more than 20 such satellites developed by Satellite Applications Catapult and Horizon Technologies, and built by AAC Clyde Space, that will provide space-based maritime data.
- Prometheus-2: Two CubeSats—owned by the U.K. Ministry of Defense (MOD) and co-funded with Airbus Defence and Space, which are also designing them jointly with In-Space Missions—will support the MOD’s science and technology activities in orbit and on the ground.
- CIRCE (Coordinated Ionospheric Reconstruction CubeSat Experiment): A joint mission between the U.K.’s Defense Science and Technology Laboratory and the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory.
- DOVER: A pathfinder for global navigation satellite systems developed by RHEA Group, co-funded through the European Space Agency’s Navigation Program and built by Open Cosmos.
- ForgeStar-0: A returnable and reusable platform to enable in-space manufacturing developed by Space Forge of Wales.
- AMAN: An earth observation satellite meant to demonstrate the future feasibility of a larger constellation of satellites, which was developed after a memorandum of understanding among the Sultanate of Oman, Polish small satellite manufacturer and operator SatRev, Poland-originated AI data analytics specialists TUATARA and Omani-based merging technology innovator ETCO.
- STORK-6: The next installment of SatRev’s STORK constellation, for which Virgin Orbit has previously launched two spacecraft.
“We are so incredibly proud of everything we have achieved with our partners and friends across the space industry here in the UK and in the US – we made it to space – a UK first,” Matt Archer, director of commercial spaceflight at the UK Space Agency, said in a statement. “Today we inspired millions, and we will continue to look to inspire millions more. Not just with our ambition but also with our fortitude. Yes, space is hard, but we are only just getting started.”