Virgin Orbit’s ‘Cosmic Girl’ rockets fail to launch the UK at the head of the space race

Virgin Orbit’s ‘Cosmic Girl’ rockets fail to launch the UK at the head of the space race

Virgin Orbit’s ‘Cosmic Girl’ rockets fail to launch the UK at the head of the space race

Tickets for launch reportedly sold out faster than Glastonbury festival - Reuters

Tickets for launch reportedly sold out faster than Glastonbury festival – Reuters

It started out great, but the launch of Britain’s first satellite fell through on Monday night when the LauncherOne rocket failed to reach the correct orbit.

Shortly before midnight, Virgin Orbit announced that there had been an anomaly which meant that the rocket containing nine satellites was heading back to Earth.

The rocket was expected to burn up on re-entry, destroying all satellites on board.

The night had started off successfully with LauncherOne taking off tethered to a repurposed Boeing 747 nicknamed ‘Cosmic Girl’ while Spaceport Cornwall played the Rolling Stones’ Start Me Up.

Thousands of people gathered near the windy and rain-lashed runway at Newquay airport to watch ‘Cosmic Girl’ take off, creating a festival atmosphere, with tickets for the event selling out faster than Glastonbury.

A silent disco to celebrate the success was already underway, and the champagne burst when Virgin announced that the mission had failed.

Commenting after the initial takeoff, Richard Branson said, “Like the song says, once we start, we’ll never stop.”

But in less than two hours, the mission was halted when the rocket failed to reach the orbit needed to deploy its nine-satellite payload.

British astronaut Tim Peake said the result was “very disappointing” but “getting into space is hard, and valuable lessons will be learned.”

Virgin initially issued a tweet saying that LauncherOne had reached orbit, but shortly before midnight updated its feed to say: “We are removing our previous tweet about reaching orbit. We will share more information when we can.”

The company said it was looking into the issue, but canceled its livestream shortly after admitting to the glitch.

The plane launched a rocket over the Atlantic Ocean south of Ireland, as part of the Start Me Up mission - PA Wire

The plane launched a rocket over the Atlantic Ocean south of Ireland, as part of the Start Me Up mission – PA Wire

Virgin said the Cosmic Girl part of the mission had been a success and the plane returned to Newquay airport safely before midnight.

The plane lifted off at 22:02 GMT and hovered about 50 miles off the southwest coast of Ireland before deploying the rocket at 23:10 GMT.

The LauncherOne rocket was scheduled to pass through Antarctica and Australia before performing a final burn to bring it into low-Earth orbit and release its payload.

Matt Archer, Director of Commercial Space for the UK Space Agency, said the rocket was likely to burn up or break up over the sea, and the satellites to be destroyed.

He said: “The second stage had an anomaly. We don’t know what caused that. But in effect the rocket has not reached the altitude required to maintain its orbit or deploy the satellites, and therefore the mission was unsuccessful.

“We’ll probably split up, not everything will burn down, so they’ll follow the trajectory. The launch trajectory itself was over unpopulated areas like the North Atlantic and then headed further south.

“Over the next few days there will be an investigation involving various bodies, including Virgin Orbit, to make sure you understand what caused that glitch.

“I’m disappointed, but we’ll dust ourselves off and come back.”

A successful launch would have meant that Britain became the first country in Europe to launch satellites. native land. The European Space Agency (ESA) currently needs to use a spaceport in French Guiana.

It would have allowed Britain to join an exclusive club of just 10 countries capable of putting rockets and satellites into orbit.

Spectators created a festival atmosphere as they were entertained by hits from Elton John and Rolling Stone - Getty

Spectators created a festival atmosphere as they were entertained by hits from Elton John and Rolling Stone – Getty

Currently, only a handful of countries have the ability to launch into orbit from their own soil: the US, Russia, India, Iran, North Korea, South Korea, Japan, China, and French Guiana for the European Space Agency. .

It’s the latest problem besetting the mission, which had hoped to launch last year but has faced months of delays while waiting to obtain a license from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which had never dealt with a launch. space so far.

Monday’s launch was Virgin Orbit’s sixth mission, with all previous launches from California’s Mojave Desert, and there were concerns that British weather could prove difficult to negotiate.

The failed mission is devastating for companies with satellites on board, many of which were small start-ups.

Cosmic Girl is a repurposed passenger plane - AP

Cosmic Girl is a repurposed passenger plane – AP

Satellites aboard the rocket included ForgeStar, the first satellite developed in Wales, which can make computer chips and crystals in the weightless environment of space.

Two small CubeSats operated by the UK Defense Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) and the US Naval Research Laboratory were also sent to monitor space weather.

The rocket also contains Oman’s first orbital mission, an Earth observation satellite, as well as a satellite designed in a Reading garage that would have helped pick up people smugglers who illegally smuggle migrants.

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