Powered by

'An anomaly': Britain's bid to launch satellites into space ends up a failure

The rocket suffered an anomaly preventing it from reaching orbit

Britain Start Me Up Launch A repurposed Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 aircraft, named Cosmic Girl, carrying Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne rocket, taking off from Spaceport Cornwall at Cornwall Airport in England onMonday | Reuters

The UK's ambitious attempt to become the first European country to launch satellites into space ended up a dissapointment after the rocket failed to reach orbit. Virgin Orbit said its rocket had suffered an anomaly preventing it from reaching orbit.

A Virgin Orbit Boeing 747, named Cosmic Girl, carrying the 21-metre LauncherOne rocket took off from Newquay in southwest England on Monday at 2202 GMT (IST 3:32 am). It was later released over the Atlantic Ocean, following which the rocket detached from the aircraft and ignited as planned at a height of 35,000 feet.

However, Virgin Orbit, in a series of tweet, said the rocket failed to enter the orbit and discharge its nine satellites as planned. "We appear to have an anomaly that has prevented us from reaching orbit," Virgin Orbit said, adding that "we are evaluating the information." 

This came immediately after Virgin Orbit's first tweet claiming the LauncherOne had reached earth orbit. It later clarified the mistake and deleted the tweet.

The company added that more information will be released soon. As for the Boeing 747, it returned as planned to the Spaceport Cornwall, a consortium that includes Virgin Orbit and the UK Space Agency, at Cornwall Airport Newquay. 

The failure of the mission comes as a huge dissapointment to European space ambitions as Italian-built Vega-C rocket mission failed after lift-off from French Guiana in late December. Besides, the first flight of Ariane 6 of the European Space Agency, has been pushed to the late 2023s.

The launch was planned with much fanfare as hundreds gathered to cheer for the Cosmic Girl's launch. 

Had the mission been successful, it would have heralded as the start of a new era for the U.K. in terms of launch capabilities. As of now, the satellites produced in the U.K. had to be sent to spaceports in other countries to make their journey into space.

Some of the satellites are meant for U.K. defense monitoring, while others are for businesses such as those working in navigational technology. One Welsh company is looking to manufacture materials such as electronic components in space.

What caused the failure? 

According to Matt Archer, commercial space director at the UK Space Agency, an investigation will be launched over the coming days into the failure.

On what caused the failure, Archer told Reuters that a first stage burn had taken the rocket into space but the second stage had a "technical anomaly and didn't reach the required orbit." The official video feed also showed the mission at second-engine cut-off, three steps short of payload deployment about two hours after take-off. 

"Lots and lots of things have been achieved and yet the milestone is obviously disappointing," Archer added. "But we will continue to press on and we will get there in the end." 


📣 The Week is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@TheWeekmagazine) and stay updated with the latest headlines