First British space flight fails to reach orbit

Vir­gin Orbit’s his­toric mis­sion “Start Me Up” took off from Corn­well Space­port on Jan­u­ary 9 as planned, but failed to reach orbit and was ulti­mate­ly a failure.

Fol­low­ing the com­pa­ny’s tweets dur­ing the event, every­thing was going well at first. Vir­gin Orbit sep­a­rat­ed LauncherOne clean­ly from its moth­er Cos­mic Girl and con­firmed the fir­ing of New­ton­Three­’s first stage rock­et engine.

He also tweet­ed about the fir­ing of the New­ton­Four, the sec­ond-stage engine, as the mis­sion appears to have suc­cess­ful­ly passed the stage sep­a­ra­tion. There was a tweet that fol­lowed, “LauncherOne is now offi­cial­ly in space!”

Launch­er One’s upper stage would have stalled and cir­cled the Earth halfway before deploy­ing its payload.

The fol­low­ing tweet, as report­ed by Ars Tech­ni­ca, reports that the rock­et and its pay­load satel­lite have suc­cess­ful­ly entered orbit.

How­ev­er, the com­pa­ny delet­ed the tweet and instead announced that “some­thing went wrong and it did­n’t go as planned.”

A graph­ic dis­played above a video feed of the launch shows that the mis­sion reached the break­point of the sec­ond stage, but stalled just hours after launch, three steps short of pay­load deploy­ment, accord­ing to Reuters. .

Matt Archer, direc­tor of com­mer­cial space at the UK Space Agency, said the gov­ern­ment and var­i­ous agen­cies, includ­ing the com­pa­ny, will con­duct inves­ti­ga­tions into the mal­func­tion over the next few days.

Archer also states that the sec­ond stage “had expe­ri­enced a tech­ni­cal anom­aly and was unable to achieve the required trajectory.”

The details of the inves­ti­ga­tion are unknown, but Vir­gin Orbit has promised to dis­close the details as soon as they become avail­able. Mean­while, the Cos­mic Girls were able to return safe­ly to Space­port Cornwall.

The mis­sion car­ried pay­load satel­lites from sev­en com­mer­cial and gov­ern­ment customers.

These include a joint UK-US project called CIRCE (Coor­di­nat­ed Ionos­pher­ic Recon­struc­tion Cube­Sat Exper­i­ment) and two Cube­Sats for the UK Min­istry of Defence’s Prometheus‑2 initiative.

Ars says the fail­ure could have major ram­i­fi­ca­tions for the com­pa­ny, which is strug­gling to launch enough mis­sions to break even.

Start Me Up is not only the first orbital launch from with­in the UK, but also Vir­gin Orbit’s first inter­na­tion­al launch and first com­mer­cial launch from West­ern Europe.”

It could have been a high-pro­file suc­cess sto­ry for the com­pa­ny, demon­strat­ing its capa­bil­i­ties to poten­tial customers.

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