Mission terminated: Virgin Orbit fails to launch rocket into space

A technical issue complicated the launch after the rocket dropped from the wing of the Boeing 747

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It was mission terminated for Richard Branson's Virgin Orbit on Monday, after the company failed in its first attempt to launch a rocket into orbit from a Boeing 747 aircraft.

In what was to be a test of the Californian company's plan to launch satellites into space, LauncherOne – a 21-metre test rocket – was planned to blast into space after being dropped from underneath the wing of Cosmic Girl, the company's modified aircraft.

The drop was successful and the rocket's engine ignited, but LauncherOne then suffered what Virgin Orbit is calling an in-flight anomaly, forcing the crew to abort the mission.

The aircraft and all crew on-board landed safely back at Mojave Air and Space port in southern California and there was no trip to space for LauncherOne this time.

Despite this, it wasn't an entirely wasted mission for the team at Virgin Orbit.

Not all bad news

LauncherOne was supposed to go into orbit from under the wing of Cosmic Girl, Virgin Orbits's modified Boeing 747. The rocket's engine ignited successfully, but "an anomaly" then forced the crew to abort mission, said the company. Courtesy Virgin Orbit    

The satellite launch company successfully completed all of its pre-launch procedures, the captive carry flight out to the drop site, clean telemetry lock from multiple dishes, a smooth pass through the racetrack, terminal count and a clean release.

After being released from the carrier aircraft, the LauncherOne rocket successfully lighted its booster engine on cue – the first time the company had attempted an in-air ignition.

"Our team performed their prelaunch and flight operations with incredible skill today. 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," said Virgin Orbit chief executive, Dan Hart.

"Our next rocket is waiting. We will learn, adjust and begin preparing for our next test, which is coming up soon," added Hart.

Teething problems

Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder, who successfully launched rockets in orbit in 2008, sympathised with the Virgin Orbit team on twitter.

The tech billionaire and aerospace chief executive tweeted his sympathy for the failed mission, reminding everyone that it took Space X four attempts to complete a similar launch successfully. .

Virgin Orbit first successfully dropped the 20-metre rocket from the wing of Cosmic Girl in July last year.

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