The wait for the first-ever successful orbital mission to lift off from the UK just got longer, as an “anomaly” caused the most recent attempt to fail. What was supposed to be a historic moment for the UK space sector came to naught as the rocket experienced an “anomaly” while flying to orbit and prevented the UK from succeeding in its historical space mission to deliver a payload of satellites to orbit. (So far, satellites produced in the UK were sent to overseas facilities to make their journey into space, and this mission was supposed to change that).
There will be two more attempts for a successful mission this month.
The mission, called Start Me Up, was meant to take a payload of nine small satellites into orbit and mark the first-ever international mission of Virgin Orbit. It was also slated to be the UK’s first satellite launch – something that attracted a large crowd – as the payload contained satellites for seven commercial and governmental customers from several nations, including a joint mission between the UK and the US to study the weather phenomena in space. And on Monday, Cosmic Girl took to the skies at around 5 PM ET. Around an hour after taking off, the aircraft successfully released the rocket.
The other satellites included in the payload included two CubeSats from the Ministry of Defense, Oman’s first-ever orbital mission, RHEA Group’s first satellite and a test global navigation system, and more.
After the rocket’s upper stage finished a nearly five-minute burn and went into a long coast, the LauncherOne system seemed to have suffered an “anomaly.” Little was revealed about what the anomaly was, but according to Chris Relf, director of systems engineering and verification at Virgin Orbit, the anomaly prevented them from making orbit in the mission.
Cosmic Girl later returned safely just after 6 PM ET. “We appear to have an anomaly that has prevented us from reaching orbit. We are evaluating the information,” read a tweet by Virgin Orbit. In a thread, the space company added that it was removing its previous tweet that read that Cosmic Girl had reached orbit and will “share more info when we can.”
We appear to have an anomaly that has prevented us from reaching orbit. We are evaluating the information.
— Virgin Orbit (@VirginOrbit) January 9, 2023
For now, the company will investigate into what caused the rocket to suffer from an anomaly and led the mission to fail. Matt Archer, commercial space director at the UK Space Agency, said that he was “disappointed, but proud of what we’ve achieved.” Melissa Thorpe, head of Spaceport Cornwall, had a more emotional reaction as she said she was “devastated” about the setback, and that it was “absolutely gutting.” She added that Virgin Orbit will be “deep diving into the data” to gain more information about the cause of the anomaly.