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Virgin Orbit: Reason for Cornwall launch failure revealed

Virgin Orbit Cornwall
Image credit: Virgin Orbit

Virgin Orbit has revealed that a dislodged fuel filter part was the cause for its unsuccessful satellite launch from Spaceport Cornwall last month.

On 9 January, Virgin Orbit’s retrofitted Boeing 747, nicknamed “Cosmic Girl”, took off from and returned to Spaceport Cornwall. However, the LauncherOne rocket onboard malfunctioned and did not reach its target orbit.

Initial findings found that during the first burn of the second stage, a feedline for a fuel filter had moved. This resulted in a fuel pump not performing at full capacity and an engine not receiving enough fuel, creating a “significantly higher” engine temperature.

More information on the mission could yet be revealed as the investigation is still underway.

Dan Hart, CEO, Virgin Orbit, said: “However, with many clear clues from extensive data assessment now understood, we are modifying our next rocket with a more robust filter and we are looking broadly to assure that all credible contributors to mission failure are rooted out and addressed.”

Modifications to Virgin Orbit rockets are currently in progress on the “factory floor” said Hart, adding that Virgin Orbit “will proceed cautiously” on its next rocket launch.

Virgin Orbit previously said that it “anticipates” it will be returning “later this year” to the Cornish spaceport.

Virgin Orbit has heavily invested in the South West spaceport, putting £2.5m towards its construction.

“In space launch, a failure is painful for all involved. Intense disappointment gets quickly channelled into the motivation to dig into the cause, to understand all contributing elements and to thereby get back to flight with a better system and a wiser team,” added Hart.

Spaceport Cornwall is based at Cornwall Airport Newquay, which is one of several spaceports across the UK.