Virgin Orbit announced on the social network Twitter, “It appears that we had an anomaly that prevented us from reaching orbit. We are evaluating the information.”
Later, the company announced that the modified Boeing 747 named “Cosmic Girl” had “returned safely” to Newquay Airport in Cornwall, southwest UK, with the crew on board.
Cosmic Girl, carrying a 21-meter rocket, lifted off at 10:02pm on Monday from Spaceport Cornwall, a consortium including Virgin Orbit and the British Space Agency.
The plane flew at an altitude of 10,600 meters over the Atlantic Ocean, after which, at about 23:15, it launched the rocket, nicknamed LauncherOne, which contains nine satellites that will be put into orbit.
The satellites had a variety of purposes, “from monitoring the Earth to monitoring illegal fishing, to building satellites and products to manufacture them in space,” Melissa Thorpe, director of Spaceport Cornwall, told BBC TV ahead of the launch.
Matt Archer, commercial flight director at the British Space Agency, explained that the first stage launch was a “success”, going “as expected”, but the second had “some kind of anomaly”.
“We don’t know what it is and again there will be an investigation in the next few days to find out, but it won’t actually reach the height required to deploy the satellites,” Archer told ITV News.
The official added that although the mission was unsuccessful, it “demonstrated” the UK’s access to space, so “everything is ready again for another launch in the future”.
Virgin Orbit attempted to reach a milestone by launching the first rocket from Europe. Currently, only eight countries have the ability to put devices into orbit from their territory.
“Joining this very exclusive club of launching countries is very important because it gives us our own private access to space, this sovereign access to space that we haven’t had before in the UK,” confirmed Spaceport Director Cornwall.
Melissa Thorpe noted that Europe has lost access to the Russian Soyuz space shuttle since the invasion of Ukraine.
The launch of Virgin Orbit generated excitement in the UK, as thousands flocked to Cornwall to watch the launch.
Hundreds of people watched the start of the mission, called “Start Me Up” in reference to the Rolling Stones song.
In addition to the spaceport in Cornwall, the United Kingdom wants to open a space base in Sutherland, in northern Scotland, and another in the Shetland archipelago, located between the Faroe Islands and Norway.
The Scottish government said in early January that the two bases were expected to start operating “in the coming months”.
VQ (ALU) // VQ
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