Virgin Orbit’s entry into the private space race ended in disappointment Memorial Day when the new company’s launch of a dummy satellite from east Kern failed for reasons not immediately clear.
It was an encouraging start — a streaking white aircraft against a blue desert sky: Departure point Mojave, destination space. Virgin Orbit, a subsidiary of Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, was sending a dummy satellite, strapped beneath the wing of a modified Boeing 747, from the Mojave Air and Space Port into low earth orbit.
An hour later, though, failure. The 747 — nicknamed Cosmic Girl – — successfully dropped its payload — a “clean release,” Virgin says — but the test rocket, called LauncherOne, experienced an “anomaly” and the mission was terminated. The 747 and its crew returned safely to Mojave, Virgin Orbit said
Virgin Orbit described the failure on its Twitter account: “In this first launch demo, we successfully completed all of our pre-launch procedures, captive carry flight out to the drop site, clean telemetry lock from multiple dishes, a smooth pass through the racetrack, terminal count, and a clean release from the aircraft.
“LauncherOne maintained stability after release, and we ignited our first stage engine, NewtonThree. An anomaly then occurred early in first stage flight.
“We’ll learn more as our engineers analyze the mountain of data we collected today.
“As we said before the flight, our goals today were to work through the process of conducting a launch, learn as much as we could, and achieve ignition. We hoped we could have done more, but we accomplished those key objectives today. The team’s already hard at work digging into the data, and we’re eager to hop into our next big test ASAP. Thankfully, instead of waiting until after our 1st flight to tackle our 2nd rocket, we’ve already completed a ton of work to get us back in the air and keep moving forward.”
Upon takeoff around noon Monday, Cosmic Girl headed west over the Pacific and turned south. About an hour later, 6.5 miles up, green lights across the board, the pilot pulled into a steep upward climb and, just south of the Channel Islands, dropped the rocket.
The rocket’s booster was supposed to have ignited, sending LauncherOne climbing into the sky. Once
it reached 18,000 miles per hour it would find a stable orbit around the earth. It didn’t happen.
Virgin Orbit’s competition includes Elon Musk’s Space-x — which still hopes to be the first private company to fly tourists around the moon and open up everyday access to space. Thankfully, Virgin Orbit did not have tourists aboard Monday’s failed test — a $12 million disappointment.