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Virgin Orbit eyes second Cornwall launch this year after rocket failure

Virgin Orbit launch
Image credit: Oliver Turrell

Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit has said it “anticipates” a return to Spaceport Cornwall “later this year” after its attempt at a first orbital satellite launch from British soil ended in failure.

The launch on Monday night failed when an “anomaly” occurred in the second stage, at an altitude of around 180km, resulting in the upper stage of the LauncherOne rocket stopping its engine burn early.

LauncherOne and its cargo of small satellites from the likes of Cardiff-based Space Forge and Oxford-based Open Cosmos, fell to earth “within the approved safety corridor”.

Dan Hart, CEO, Virgin Orbit, said: “We are all disappointed that we were not able to achieve full mission success and provide the launch service that our customers deserve. Upon identifying the anomaly, our team immediately moved into a pre-planned investigation mode.”

An investigation into the technical fault is being overseen by aerospace veteran Jim Sponnick, Chad Foerster and Virgin Orbit’s chief engineer and VP of technology development.

The Cornwall mission is the first of Virgin Orbit’s five LauncherOne missions. Before returning to the UK, Virgin Orbit is to next launch from the California-based Mojave Air and Space Port.

“We are continuing to process and test our next vehicle per our plan and will implement any required modifications prior to our next launch,” added Hart.

Talks with the government and stakeholders are said to be taking place for future launches, as the firm intends to launch from the South West twice a year for five years.

Melissa Thorpe, head of Spaceport Cornwall, speaking on the launch, said: “We are so incredibly proud of everything we have achieved with our partners and friends across the space industry here in the UK and in the US – we made it to space – a UK first.”

Virgin Orbit, founded by billionaire entrepreneur Branson, has previously invested £2.5m into the spaceport and is one of the four members of Spaceport Cornwall’s consortium.