Historic Cornwall satellite launch ends in failure

The UK’s burgeoning space industry suffered a significant setback last night after the launch of the Virgin Orbit rocket ended in failure. 

The LauncherOne rocket experienced an “anomaly” during its “horizontal launch” mission and failed to reach orbit. Carried under the wing of a modified Boeing 747 aircraft known as Cosmic Girl, it took off from the Cornish coastal town of Newquay and was subsequently released over the Atlantic Ocean.

Commenting after the initial lift-off, Virgin founder Richard Branson said of the company’s “Start Me Up” mission: “Like the song says once we start it up we’ll never stop.”

But “within less than two hours, the mission ground to a halt, when the rocket failed to reach the orbit needed to deploy its cargo of nine satellites”, said The Telegraph.

It was part of an ambitious attempt for the UK to become the first European nation to launch a satellite into space and had it been successful would have marked a “major milestone” for the fledgling UK space industry, said the BBC. 

The converted 747, Cosmic Girl, took off to “whoops and cheers” from a crowd who had gathered at Spaceport Cornwall to watch the launch last night, said The Guardian, but the excitement soon turned to disappointment. 

The LauncherOne rocket, and the nine satellites it was carrying, have been lost and are expected to break up safely over the North Atlantic, while the 747 returned to its Cornwall base. 

Matt Archer, the director of commercial spaceflight at the UK Space Agency, said that it was not known what caused the “anomaly” that resulted in the rocket failing to reach orbit, but said that “a lot of positives have been achieved”, including a successful launch. 

“Space is hard. We knew that this had a risk of failure. Launches don’t always work. We’ve created the conditions for launch here. We’ve shown we can do it and we’ll look to do it again,” he added.

It comes amid a series of European setbacks in the past year, said Reuters. The European Space Agency’s Ariane 6 launcher has been delayed, access to Russian Soyuz rockets is blocked by the Ukraine war and the Italian-built Vega-C rocket has been grounded. 

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