Unsuccessful debut launch of Virgin Orbit rocket in UK linked to ‘$100’ report

Virgin Orbit is within reach to find out what went wrong on her first mission to the UK.

Virgin Orbit’s debut orbital launch in Cornwall, named “Start Me Up” after a famous Rolling Stones song, ended in a rocket failure in January. 9 after LauncherOne was launched from a modified 747 by the firm. The problem could be caused by a problem in the rocket’s second stage engine, officials said Tuesday (Feb. 7) at a conference attended by SpaceNews. (will open in a new tab).

“Every indication is that right now there is a filter that was clearly there when we assembled the rocket but was not there when the second stage engine fired, which means it has been dislodged and caused harm downstream,” CEO Dan said. Hart at the SmallSat Symposium in Mountain. View, California.

The investigation is ongoing and there may be other issues that need to be addressed. But if that’s really the reason, “it looks like a $100 part that put us out of action,” Hart added.

Related: Virgin Orbit launch failure leaves UK open to becoming space ‘outsider’

Both Virgin Orbit and the UK Space Agency launched an investigation into the accident, which took out nine small satellites along with the rocket. The company’s carrier aircraft, known as Cosmic Girl, was unaffected by the anomaly as the problem occurred minutes after the rocket was launched from the aircraft after the rocket’s second stage had been fired.

The launch in Cornwall was a historic milestone for Virgin Orbit following five previous orbital flights from the Mojave Aerospace Port in southeastern California. It was also of great importance to Cornwall, which hopes to host space missions there in the face of fierce competition for the UK’s first launch.

The UK announced in 2014 that it would build the infrastructure to launch small satellites to tap into the rapidly growing global space market, and is already hosting established companies such as Airbus, Surrey Satellite Technology and Clyde Space.

Cornwall isn’t the only place heading for space, with vertical micro rocket launches scheduled for later this year at SpaceHub Sutherland in the north of Scotland and SaxaVord in the Shetland Islands off the coast of Scotland.

Elizabeth Howell is co-author of Why Am I Taller? (will open in a new tab)? (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), space medicine book. Follow her on Twitter @howellspace (will open in a new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (will open in a new tab) or facebook (will open in a new tab).

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