An attempt to make British space history by launching a rocket into orbit from UK soil has ended in failure after suffering an “anomaly” during the flight.
After Virgin Orbit's modified Boeing 747 took off from Cornwall, it flew to 35,000ft over the Atlantic Ocean where it dropped the rocket containing nine small satellites towards space.
But organisers of the Start Me Up mission said the rocket – with a variety of civil and defence applications – failed to reach orbit.
Virgin Orbit said: “We appear to have an anomaly that has prevented us from reaching orbit. We are evaluating the information."
While engineers tried to establish what went wrong, the plane and its crew returned to Spaceport Cornwall safely.
Matt Archer, Commercial Space Director at the UK Space Agency, told ITV News West Country the first stage of the rocket launch was successful and it "burned as it was expected" but the second stage had an "anomaly of some kind".
He added: "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 told reporters part of the rocket was likely to burn up on re-entry to earth but was projected to land over water.
“The trajectory puts it over main bodies of water, so it’s completely safe in that regard,” he said.
He added: "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."
The plane, dubbed Cosmic Girl, took off on Monday night from Cornwall Airport with hundreds of members of the public watching and over 75,000 viewing a live stream of the event.
Watch the moment Cosmic Girl took off from Newquay
Named in tribute to the Rolling Stones’ 1981 hit, the mission involved a repurposed Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 aircraft and Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket.
It was originally hoped the launch could take place before Christmas but owing to technical and regulatory issues it had to be pushed into 2023.
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