Yesterday we wrote about launch failed from Virgin Orbit. His space rocket, LauncherOne, positioned under the wing of a Boeing 747, after undocking and firing the first stage correctly did not reach orbit (although exceeding 100 km of altitude and therefore formally entering Space). It was a hard blow for the company which has yet to demonstrate the reliability and high cadence expected from such a solution.
One of the peculiarities of the strategy of this company is that by launching its multistage space rocket from an airplane does not need dedicated spaceports but a runway long enough to be able to take off a Boeing 747, called Cosmic Girl. This allows, for example, to launch from different latitudes or countries. For example, yesterday’s launch (take-off took place on January 9, Italian time) should have been the first from the United Kingdom and from what has been called Spaceport Cornwall in the south of the nation.
The video of the return of LauncherOne after the failed launch of Virgin Orbit
As we got to write the take off of Cosmic Girl it happened at 23:02 (Italian time). It was the sixth mission (called Start me up) overall for the space rocket LauncherOne and for the US company that was supposed to bring nine small satellites into orbit for various agencies and companies. The potential of this kind of strategy is to reduce costs for customers (and operating costs for the company).
Virgin Orbit stated that the ignition of the first stage of the LauncherOne happened correctly while shortly after the ignition of the second stage there was an anomaly which led to the loss of the payload. Second stage reentry would have been visible from Lancer (but no damage to people or things was caused).
L’video analysis (visible at the beginning of the news) and of the data available by Marco Langbroek would have indicated how the trail in the sky captured by a video camera for recording racing cars and meteors would be precisely the second stage of the LauncherOne. The recording was made around 0:19 on January 10 (Italian time) showing the debris being re-entered.
The trajectory would be correctly superimposed on what one would expect from the remains of the space rocket and not of the first stage which instead would have fallen into the Atlantic Ocean several hundred kilometers earlier (in the Portugal area). Instead the light trail would be about 380 km west of Lancer.
The distance traveled by the LauncherOne would indicate, as also clarified by Virgin Orbit, that the second stage went out earlier than expected (despite having had a correct ignition) for a reason to be clarified. Due to the relatively small mass and altitude as well as the chosen area there were no particular dangers for the population and hardly anything survived the atmospheric re-entry. Now the company will have to conduct an analysis of the problem to prevent it from happening again (while trying to reassure investors). After reporting the failure to reach orbit (at an altitude of 555 km), the actions of Virgin Orbit they touched $1.55 (the highest peak ever was $10.47 in July 2021).