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Virgin Orbit Fails Debut Mission from the UK

Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne has suffered a failure in its debut flight. This story is developing.

  • More details coming soon...
Zac Aubert

Zac Aubert

Tue Jan 10 2023Written by Zac Aubert

The first ever orbital mission to launch from the UK did not go as planned.

Virgin Orbit's debut launch out of the UK, named "Start Me Up" has ended in an apparent failure of the second stage of the Launcher One rocket.

Virgin Orbits's rocket carrier plane, known as Cosmic Girl lifted off from Spaceport Cornwall at 5:02pm EST (2202 UTC), 67 minutes later the modified Boeing 747-400 dropped Virgin Orbit's Launcher One rocket. The vehicle climbed as expected, with a nominal stage 1 burn, stage sep, and stage 2 ignition.

Following stage 2 ignition is where details became very hazy with the data being relayed from the vehicle going wonky due to what was believed to be simply ground station blackouts. Minutes later, Virgin Orbit tweeted that the vehicle was successfully in orbit, and all seemed to be going well. However, several minutes later, it was said on the webcast that the vehicle had experienced an anomaly and orbit was not achieved, resulting in the loss of all payloads on board.

"It appears that LauncherOne has suffered an anomaly, which will prevent us from making orbit this mission,"

Chris Relf - Virgin Orbit Director of Systems Engineering and Verification

The launch failure resulted in the loss of nine satellites on board including a on-orbit manufacturing experiment by Space Force (a UK company) several UK defense cubesats (two which were set to study the ionosphere), and an experimental global navigation satellite co-funded by the European Space Agency. 

Virgin Orbit stocks fell 8% before close of the US market following the launch failure, and fell an addition 28% in off markets.

The Path Forward for Virgin Orbit

Virgin Orbit was not in a great place financially going into this historic first UK space launch. Virgin Orbit now has had 4 successful mission and 2 launch failure, not terrible for a new launch provider but due to their slow launch cadence this failure does not help out Virgin Orbit's future. This failure will now launch a joint investigation between the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) of the USA and the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) of the United Kingdom (who issued the launch licence) into the root cause of the failure.

Further updates will be shared as they are received.