Virgin’s European satellite launch mission fails – Disappointment in Britain

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Virgin’s European satellite launch mission fails – Disappointment in Britain

Another blow to European space ambitions, after the failure of an Italian Vega-C rocket launch from French Guiana at the end of December.

The first attempt to launch a satellite from western Europe appeared to fail early today when the Virgin Orbit reported an “anomaly” that prevented its rocket from reaching the height of its planned trajectory.

The mission took off from the coastal town of Newquay, in southwest England, with Virgin’s LauncherOne rocket carried under the wing of a modified Boeing 747 and later released over the Atlantic Ocean (center photo).

The carrier aircraft codenamed “Cosmic Girl” returned to the Newquay spaceport shortly after the anomaly was detected in the rocket it had earlier released from its carrier on the modified wing of the plane.

The apparent failure deals a further blow to European space ambitions, following the failure of an Italian Vega-C rocket launch from French Guiana in late December. Missiles of the same type have since been grounded.

Virgin Orbit, part of which is owned by British billionaire Richard Bransonhas planned to deploy nine small satellites into low Earth orbit (LEO) in its first mission outside of its US base.

“Over the next few days there will be an investigation by the government, but also by other agencies, including Virgin Orbit,” said Matt Archer, director of commercial space missions at the British Space Agency.

According to Archer, the first burn stage carried the rocket into space, while the second stage had “a technical anomaly and did not reach the required orbital height.”

It was not clear how the failure, which should be investigated, would affect the timing or location of future missions.

Britain has announced that it leads satellite production outside the US, with 47,000 people working in its space industry, and has called for the development of potentially multiple micro-launch sites, including two vertical launch platforms in Scotland.

Britain’s Space Agency had described the mission as a moment of national pride for the country’s growing space industry, while British Science Secretary George Freeman told the spaceport it was a “historic moment”.

“A lot has been achieved, but this major milestone is obviously disappointing,” said Archer. “But we’ll keep pushing and we’ll get there in the end.”

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