Matthew Horwood/Getty Images
The rocket was poised to make history on Monday night, carrying satellites in what would be the first orbital launch from the UK. But Virgin Orbit says its LauncherOne rocket “experienced an anomaly” before delivering the payload and the craft was lost.
The mission was called Start Me Up, channeling the Rolling Stones to herald a new era of British space travel. Now, officials say, they will start again, noting that the mission sets a new precedent for the UK and proves that their long-term plans are on track.
“Yes, space is hard, but we’re just getting started.” Melissa Thorpe, head of Cornwall Spaceport, said this in a statement about the operation.
Failure came on the precipice of success
The spacecraft was very close to completing its mission as it needed one more successful engine burn before launching its satellites into orbit. Virgin Orbit’s Chris Relf told thousands of people watching live video of the launch that it would be “when we can pop the champagne corks and start dancing”.
But about 24 minutes after the announcement, Relf, Virgin Orbit’s director of systems engineering and verification, sadly announced that the spacecraft had “suffered an anomaly that will prevent us from getting into orbit for this mission.”
It was unclear what could have caused the anomaly or how it prematurely ended the long-awaited space launch – a key step in the UK Space Agency’s ambitious plan to become a major player in spaceports and satellite launches. Business.
The rocket “Cosmic Girl” took the rocket to a height
LauncherOne’s launch plan called for it to be carried to 35,000 feet by Space Maiden, a Boeing 747 that Virgin Orbit had converted into an aerial launch vehicle. The aircraft took off from Cornwall Spaceport in southwest England and returned safely to the runway after launching LauncherOne.
For a while, LauncherOne performed exactly as planned: After separating from Space Maiden, its NewtonThree first-stage engine ignited the ship and exploded above the limit of space.
After a successful stage separation, LauncherOne’s second stage engines fired to bring it closer to the satellites desired orbital level. The ship also shed shells around its nose in preparation for the impending payload release. Halfway across the globe, he cut his engine when he started to coast.
Next came the “barbecue roll”.
While on shore, LauncherOne also began spinning in the sunlight, a maneuver NASA has long called passive thermal control — but apparently it’s been known for a long time by a catchy nickname: the “barbecue roll.” The goal is to expose all sides of the spacecraft to the sun, like a turntable on top of a flare.
“Basically, we’re hunting the atmosphere,” Relf said. “This prevents one side of the stage from being too hot and the other too cold.”
“We expect the rocket to coast halfway around the Earth, deploy the payload and download the telemetry,” Virgin Orbit said in a statement detailing the craft’s progress. on Twitter.
Matthew Horwood/Getty Images
The plan called for an engine restart so engineers could place the satellites in a sun-synchronous orbit, or SSO, at a target altitude of 555 kilometers. But the ship did not reach the orbit.
Nine satellites were lost
Virgin Orbit said it was reviewing flight data to determine exactly what went wrong.
“The failure resulted in the loss of nine satellites,” reports Space.com. “Those payloads are an in-orbit manufacturing experiment by the UK company Space Forge; several UK defense cubesats, including two to study the ionosphere, the upper layer of Earth’s atmosphere where space weather occurs; and an experimental global navigation satellite co-funded by the European Space Agency.”
Matt Archer, director of commercial spaceflight at the UK Space Agency, said more launches would follow.
“While this result is disappointing, there are always significant risks involved in launching a spacecraft,” Archer said. “Nonetheless, the project has succeeded in establishing horizontal launch capability at Cornwall Spaceport and we are committed to being the leading supplier of small commercial satellite launches in Europe by 2030, with vertical launches planned from Scotland.”