Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit Maiden LauncherOne Flight Fails

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

MOJAVE, Calif. — Virgin Orbit’s first LauncherOne flight failed on Monday due to an anomaly in the booster’s first stage, marking a setback for Richard Branson’s effort to enter the booming small satellite launch industry.

Virgin Orbit tweeted that LauncherOne completed a clean release from under the wing of a modified Boeing 747 Cosmic Girl as the aircraft flew over the Pacific Ocean near Los Angeles.

LauncherOne operated in powered flight for only seconds before an anomaly shut it down after being dropped from the Cosmic Girl Boeing 747. (Credit; Virgin Orbit)

“LauncherOne maintained stability after release, and we ignited our first stage engine, NewtonThree,” the company said. “An anomaly then occurred early in first stage flight. We’ll learn more as our engineers analyze the mountain of data we collected today.”

The 747 carrier aircraft landed safely back at the Mojave Air and Space Port from which it had taken off.

“The team’s already hard at work digging into the data, and we’re eager to hop into our next big test ASAP,” Virgin Orbit tweeted. “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.”

LauncherOne is designed to loft up payloads weighing up to 500 kg (1,100 lb) to 230 km (124 nm) orbits. It will also be capable of orbiting 300 kg (661 lb) to 500 km (270 nm) sun-synchronous orbits.