The anomaly that prevented the successful completion of the Virgin Orbit mission was a filter that cost less than $100. According to the company’s CEO Dan Hart, the component “shifted” and caused launch problems.
Virgin Orbit launched its historic Start Me Up mission from Cornwall on January 9th. The LauncherOne rocket successfully separated from Cosmic Girl, a converted Boeing 747 carrier aircraft, but failed to enter orbit. The company later reported that an “anomaly” had occurred, ending the mission prematurely. The rocket components, along with the payload, fell to Earth “within the approved safety corridor.”
Cosmic Girl with Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket attached to a wing prior to its first launch in the UK. Cornwall Spaceport, Newquay Airport, January 9, 2023.
Photo: Henry Nicholls/Reuters
The LauncherOne rocket carried 9 satellites from 7 customers, including a joint project of the UK Defense Science and Technology Laboratory and the US Naval Research Laboratory called CIRCE (Coordinated Ionospheric Reconstruction CubeSat Experiment).
Virgin Orbit promised to conduct a full investigation into the root cause of the anomaly, but without waiting for results, announced another launch attempt from the UK later this year. During the SmallSat symposium in Mountain View, California, Dan Hart said the investigation was ongoing, but sounded pretty confident in his preliminary findings:
“Currently, everything points to a filter that was in place when the rocket was assembled, but moved after launch. This $100 component took us out of the game.”
Hart also said that Virgin Orbit will no longer use this filter and is looking into an alternative.
LauncherOne has had four successful launches from the Mojave Aerospace Port in California between January 2021 and July 2022, and only one failure in May 2020. The launch from the UK was supposed to be a key event for Virgin Orbit, a company that plans to make money from launches and at least double their number in 2023. Virgin Orbit was scheduled to make three launches in 2022, ending the year with only two, pushing the Start Me Up mission to January 2023.
Shares of Virgin Orbit fell 30% after the company confirmed that its first launch from the UK failed, according to CNBC.
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