Virgin Orbit’s recent launch from Western Europe failed due to an anomaly in the rocket’s upper stage. The first firing of this stage ended prematurely.
According to Virgin Orbit this led to the end of the mission. The rocket failed to reach the desired orbit and the rocket components and payload fell back to Earth. This event occurred at an altitude of about 180km. The carrier, a Boeing 747 aircraft that held the relatively small missile before launching at an altitude of about 10.6km, returned safely.
The company says extensive telemetry data has been stored, which has enabled Virgin Orbit engineers and a research team to start their analyzes since detecting the anomaly. No further details have yet been given about what contributed to the unwanted deviation.
Virgin Orbit says it is continuing the process for the next scheduled launch from California’s Mojave Air & Space Port. That is the location from which the previous five launches have taken place. The first mission in May 2020 failed, but the four most recent have been successful, bringing the company to orbit a total of 33 satellites. Virgin Orbit expects to fly another mission from Britain’s Spaceport Cornwall later this year.
The current failed launch also lost the payload. Nine satellites would go into space. These were satellites from the British space agency, the air force, the national and US aviation authorities and the American research institute NRO.