Mission logo "Start me up" is a clear reference to Rolling Stones, a sign of cooperation between the USA and England. Credits Virgin Orbits

New year, new launch site, new troubles for Virgin Orbit

The first Orbital Launch attempt from European soil by Virgin Orbit and its Launcher One has failed: let's see what is known for now...

Catastrophically failed the first launch performed by Virgin Orbit outside the company’s American base in the Mojave Desert, California.

The Boeing 747 converted by Richard Branson’s Space Company into the famous Cosmic Girl, took off from an airport in Newquay, a popular town in Cornwall, Southwest England.

Having send-off locales accessible in England as opposed to going too far-off ones like Cape Canaveral in Florida or New Zealand “has a colossal effect as far as having the option to foster satellites and to fly them”, said Emma Jones, head of U.K. business improvement for RHEA Gathering, a space security firm, which has put a satellite on Virgin Orbit’s rocket.

Virgin Orbit Boeing 747 "Cosmic Girl" during a flight test. Credits Ed Dunens via Flickr
Virgin Orbit Boeing 747 “Cosmic Girl” during a flight test. Credits: Ed Dunens via Flickr

The plane carried under its wing the LauncherOne rocket loaded with satellites, and after reaching the right altitude, about 10.6 kilometers (34.776 feet) above the Atlantic Ocean, it jettisoned the rocket.

The first stage worked nominally, and after the ignition of the second stage, during the ascent, something in the launcher didn’t work as planned determining the failure of the orbit insertion and the loss of the entire mission.


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An investigation to clarify the causes

At first sight, the mission seemed to be completed, with a tweet by Virgin stating that the mission had reached orbit successfully, but just some minutes later, another tweet declared the failure of “Start me up” (the name of the mission is a reference to the legendary British band The Rolling Stones).

A few days later a formal investigation started, with the aim of clarifying the causes of the failure of the mission.

Launcher One was successfully activated, and its long run to Earth orbit then continued with the ignition of the second stage, but then something happened and the nine-satellite payload deployment was not successful. At an altitude of about 180 km (590.551 feet), the second stage experienced an anomaly.

This anomaly prematurely aborted its thrust and ended the mission, with rocket components and payload falling back to Earth through the approved safety corridor, without ever reaching orbit. The company wants to go deep into what happened and investigate further to prevent failure of further launches.

Mission logo "Start me up" is a clear reference to Rolling Stones, a sign of cooperation between the USA and England. Credits Virgin Orbits
The mission logo of “Start me up” is a clear reference to The Rolling Stones, a sign of cooperation between the USA and England. Credits: Virgin Orbit

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Cosmic Girl, a masterpiece of aerospace engineering

Imagine taking the best from the world of aviation and rockets for space exploration: the concept of Cosmic girl is born from this marriage, a work of art for the launch of small satellites in low orbits, in different inclinations.

Basically, the Boeing 747 is specially modified by Virgin Orbit to host under its wing LauncherOne: it is an air-dropped, 2-stages launcher, capable of carrying a load of 300 kg. The two stages composed are 6 meters long, with a diameter of 1.6 meters. They are powered by liquid rocket engines propelled by Kerosene and Liquid Oxygen.

Having send off locales accessible in England as opposed to going to far off ones like Cape Canaveral in Florida or New Zealand "has a colossal effect as far as having the option to foster satellites and to fly them," said Emma Jones, head of U.K. business improvement for RHEA Gathering, a space security firm, which has put a satellite on the Virgin Circle rocket. Credits "astro kabir" via Flickr
Launcher One Mockup on a display stand. Credits “astro kabir” via Flickr

The first launch was carried out on May 25, 2020, from the Mojave Spaceport: the launch attempt was a failure, followed by then by five successful missions and this last failure.

This is the second failure of the year, after ABL’s RS1 Maiden Flight.


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Federico Coppola

Federico Coppola

A third-year student of Histoy and Italian Modern literature at Federico II in Naples, passionate about space, writing, and with an incurable dream of flying up through the clouds to reach the stars.
Admin of the Instagram page Italian_space_meme

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