SEATTLE — Virgin Orbit says its first LauncherOne mission from the UK failed to succeed in orbit Jan. 9 when an anomaly precipitated a untimely shutdown of the rocket’s higher stage.
In a Jan. 12 assertion, Virgin Orbit offered just a few new particulars about the failed “Start Me Up” mission from England’s Spaceport Cornwall, which tried to position 9 satellites into orbit. The failure was the primary for LauncherOne since an inaugural demonstration mission in 2020.
Based on the corporate, the preliminary phases of the launch, together with the rocket’s deployment from its Boeing 747 plane and first stage burn, went as deliberate. The rocket’s second stage then separated and ignited its NewtonFour engine, adopted by payload fairing separation.
“Later within the mission, at an altitude of roughly 180 km, the higher stage skilled an anomaly. This anomaly prematurely ended the primary burn of the higher stage,” the corporate said. The corporate didn’t disclose further particulars concerning the anomaly.
Observers had speculated that some type of situation with the higher stage precipitated the failure, though points with the telemetry displayed throughout the launch webcast, akin to spurious knowledge, made it troublesome to slender down the character of the issue or its timing. The corporate didn’t clarify why it initially introduced throughout the launch that the higher stage had reached orbit, a declare it retracted almost a half-hour later.
Virgin Orbit has began a proper investigation led by Chad Foerster, its chief engineer and vice chairman of expertise, and Jim Sponnick, a former vice chairman of Atlas and Delta packages at United Launch Alliance. The corporate didn’t estimate how lengthy that investigation will take.
“Upon figuring out the anomaly, our group instantly moved right into a pre-planned investigation mode,” Dan Hart, chief govt of Virgin Orbit, mentioned within the assertion. Given the corporate’s expertise with the car and “ample telemetry knowledge” from the flight, “I’m assured that root trigger and corrective actions will probably be decided in an environment friendly and well timed method.”
Virgin Orbit mentioned LauncherOne’s return to flight will happen from Mojave Air and Area Port in California, which had hosted all 5 earlier missions earlier than this launch. The rocket for that mission goes by remaining integration and checkout.
The corporate mentioned it expects to return to Spaceport Cornwall for future launches, “and is in energetic discussions with key authorities and business stakeholders within the U.Okay. to begin planning mission alternatives for as quickly as later this yr.” Hart, at a Jan. 8 pre-launch briefing, supplied the same timeline however with caveats. “I’m undecided that can occur, however it’s not out of the query,” he mentioned then of a second LauncherOne mission from Cornwall earlier than the top of the yr.
A swift and profitable return to flight is important for Virgin Orbit, which was dropping a major amount of cash even earlier than the failure because it struggled to extend its launch price. The corporate ended its fiscal third quarter with $71 million in money and destructive free money move of $52.5 million, though the corporate has since raised $45 million in two separate tranches from Virgin Group and its funding arm.
Shares in Virgin Orbit fell 14% on the Nasdaq alternate Jan. 10, the primary day after the failure, however rebounded barely Jan. 11. The corporate’s shares are nonetheless buying and selling close to its low since going public slightly greater than a yr in the past in a SPAC merger.
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