Spaceport Cornwall: Virgin Orbit's statement in full after UK's space mission failed

A repurposed Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 aircraft, named Cosmic Girl, carrying Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne rocket, taxis down the runway ahead of take off at Spaceport Cornwall at Cornwall Airport, Newquay
Credit: PA images

An investigation will be carried out after a mission to launch satellites from the UK, which would have made British space history, failed.

The attempt to launch a rocket into orbit from UK soil for the first time suffered an 'anomaly' during the flight.

Virgin Orbit's modified Boeing 747 took off from Cornwall, last night (9 January) but the rocket failed to reach orbit after a technical issue.

Virgin Orbit issued a statement early this morning (10 January) saying that the historic attempt 'ultimately fell short of reaching its target'.

  • Watch how a recap of how the launch took place

The statement goes on to read: "After successfully taking off from the runway at Spaceport Cornwall – which just a few weeks ago was transformed from a mere slab of empty cement at a commercial airport to the world’s newest space launch operations centre – and travelling to the designated drop zone, Cosmic Girl, the customised 747 that serves as the LauncherOne system’s carrier aircraft, successfully released the rocket. 

"The rocket then ignited its engines, quickly going hypersonic and successfully reaching space.

"The flight then continued through successful stage separation and ignition of the second stage. However, at some point during the firing of the rocket’s second stage engine and with the rocket travelling at a speed of more than 11,000 miles per hour, the system experienced an anomaly, ending the mission prematurely.

"Though the mission did not achieve its final orbit, by reaching space and achieving numerous significant first-time achievements, it represents an important step forward.

"The effort behind the flight brought together new partnerships and integrated collaboration from a wide range of partners, including the UK Space Agency, the Royal Air Force, the Civil Aviation Authority, the US Federal Aviation Administration, the National Reconnaissance Office, and more, and demonstrated that space launch is achievable from UK soil.

"Out of five LauncherOne missions carrying payloads for private companies and governmental agencies, this is the first to fall short of delivering its payloads to their precise target orbit."

Despite the failed launch at Spaceport Cornwall last night, which saw more than two thousand spectators turn out to watch, organisers say they will make renewed attempts to send the satellites to space.

According to Virgin Orbit, the rocket successfully detached before suffering a technical issue Credit: Virgin Orbit

Dan Hart, Virgin Orbit CEO, said: “While we are very proud of the many things that we successfully achieved as part of this mission, we are mindful that we failed to provide our customers with the launch service they deserve.

"The first-time nature of this mission added layers of complexity that our team professionally managed through; however, in the end a technical failure appears to have prevented us from delivering the final orbit.

"We will work tirelessly to understand the nature of the failure, make corrective actions, and return to orbit as soon as we have completed a full investigation and mission assurance process.”