Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit rocket launching aircraft made its inaugural flight on May 25th (at 11.56 Pacific Time). All went well with the actual aircraft (Cosmic Girl) but the adapted Boeing 747’s rocket failed moments after deployment from the aircraft.
The rocket did ignite its first stage for a few seconds and observers suggest that the launch was deliberately cut short because of an anomaly.
“We’ve confirmed a clean release from the aircraft. However, the mission terminated shortly into the flight. Cosmic Girl and our flight crew are safe and returning to base,” Virgin Orbit said in its official Twitter commentary after the launch.
The plane had taken off from its Mojave Desert base north of Los Angeles. The Launcher One rocket is held under the aircraft’s port wing on the heavily adapted Boeing.
Virgin Orbit has another 6 rockets under construction.
“The team’s already hard at work digging into the data, and we’re eager to hop into our next big test ASAP,” the company tweeted later. “Thankfully, instead of waiting until after our 1st flight to tackle our 2nd rocket, we’ve already completed a ton of work to get us back in the air and keep moving forward.”
This particular flight was carrying a dummy satellite, but the Virgin concept is to use the Boeing to launch small-to-medium sized satellites weighing 300-500 kgs.
Virgin Orbit says it has satellite launch orders worth “hundreds of millions”. However, the company has now been testing the launch technology more than 20 times over the past 5 years and – as yet – without success.