What happened when Virgin Orbit's Cosmic Girl took off from Cornwall in UK's failed space mission

  • Watch: Cosmic Girl takes off from Newquay

The first rocket the UK has sent into space has suffered an anomaly, meaning the mission failed.

Virgin Orbit says it is evaluating the information after its LauncherOne was prevented from reaching orbit.

A Boeing 747 carrying the first rocket to launch into space from UK soil took off from Spaceport Cornwall on Monday night (9 January).

Virgin Orbit's modified plane - dubbed Cosmic Girl - took off horizontally from the Newquay site with the LauncherOne rocket attached to its wing shortly after 10pm.

It then made its way across the Atlantic before releasing the rocket, with satellites on board, when it got just south of Ireland at around 11pm.

The rocket then ignited and accelerated to 22x the speed of sound, soaring past the coasts of Spain and Portugal before leaving the Earth's atmosphere at 17,200mph.

But an "anomaly" on the rocket meant it failed to reach orbit.

In a tweet, Virgin Orbit said: "We appear to have an anomaly that has prevented us from reaching orbit. We are evaluating the information."

Matt Archer, Commercial Space Director at the UK Space Agency, told ITV News West Country the first stage of the rocket was successful and "burned as it was expected" but the second stage had an "anomaly of some kind".

"We don't know what that is and again they'll be an investigation in the coming days to work out, but effectively it won't reach the altitude that it requires to deploy the satellites," he said.

"They will probably break up on re-entry but again that'll be worked through with the Virgin team, but again there's no risk to human life.

"At this stage, the mission was unsuccessful but we've proven that we can launch from Cornwall and again everything is in place to do another launch in the future."

If the mission had been a success, the satellites would have been the first ever to be launched into space from Europe.

What was it like on the ground before and during take-off?

Cosmic Girl's 'wheels-up' moment happened shortly after 10pm to the sound of cheers from the crowd.

There was a real party atmosphere at Newquay Airport all evening. It was really quite busy on site, with lots of people both seated and standing who had their eyes fixed on the runway ahead of take-off. There was music blaring and people spent time taking photos with a replica of the LauncherOne rocket.

Even the mere sound of Cosmic Girl's engine being turned on got the crowd excited, but they quietened as they watched it taxi on the runway before roars of excitement were heard as it left the ground.

Cosmic Girl taxis down the runway ahead of take off at Spaceport Cornwall. Credit: PA

Rocket released from Cosmic Girl

There were cheers once more as the rocket was dropped from Cosmic Girl and a successful ignition was confirmed.

The crew quickly moved the plane out of the rocket's path and set out on their return to Cornwall.

But there were muted cheers as Cosmic Girl and its crew safely returned to Cornwall after news of the rocket anomaly had reached crowds.

What was on the LauncherOne rocket that took off from Cornwall?

The missions of the satellites on board LauncherOne span a wide range of activities aimed at improving life on planet Earth, including reducing the environmental impact of production; preventing illegal trafficking, smuggling, and terrorism; and a host of national security functions.

Aircraft Cosmic Girl and the Launcher One Rocket Credit: Virgin Orbit

IOD-3 AMBER (aka IOD-3) – Developed by Satellite Applications Catapult and Horizon Technologies and built by AAC Clyde Space, all based in the UK. IOD-3 Amber is expected to be the first of more than 20 Amber satellites to provide space-based Maritime Domain Awareness data to users.

Prometheus-2 –Two cubesats owned by the Ministry of Defence’s 'Defence Science & Technology Laboratory'. These satellites will support MOD science and technology activities both in orbit and on the ground.

CIRCE (Coordinated Ionospheric Reconstruction CubeSat Experiment) – CIRCE is part of a joint mission between the UK's Defence Science and Technology Laboratory and the U.S Naval Research Laboratory.

DOVER – Developed by RHEA Group in the UK, it is the company’s first satellite in its 30-year history. The satellite is being co-funded through the European Space Agency’s Navigation Program and built by Open Cosmos. DOVER is a SmallSat that was created as a pathfinder for resilient global navigation satellite systems.

ForgeStar-0 – Is the first ever satellite designed and built in Wales. The ForgeStar-0 satellite has been designed by Cardiff-based startup Space Forge, which is creating the world's first returnable and reusable satellite platform to harness the power of microgravity and potentially transform manufacturing.

AMAN – Oman’s first orbital mission, it is a single earth observation satellite meant to demonstrate the future feasibility of a larger constellation and was developed after a memorandum of understanding among the Sultanate of Oman, Polish Small Satellite manufacturer and operator SatRev, Poland-originated AI data analytics specialists TUATARA, and Omani-based merging technology innovator ETCO.

STORK-6 – Stork-6 is the next instalment of Polish Small Satellite manufacturer and operator SatRev’s STORK constellation. Virgin Orbit previously launched two spacecraft in this constellation on a previous launch.

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