Spaceport Cornwall: This is what caused failure of Virgin Orbit rocket in UK's first space mission

Virgin Orbit's Start Me Up mission, which launched from Cornwall, failed in January Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

A dislodged fuel filter caused the first attempt to launch satellites into orbit from the UK to fail, Virgin Orbit has revealed.

After Virgin Orbit's modified Boeing 747 took off from Cornwall, it flew to 35,000ft over the Atlantic Ocean where it dropped the LauncherOne rocket carrying nine small satellites.

But the rocket then failed to reach orbit meaning the UK's first space mission failed.

Virgin Orbit has today (15 February) revealed a dislodged fuel filter caused an engine to overheat. This led to the malfunction of components and the premature shutdown of the LauncherOne rocket’s thrust.

The rocket components and payload then fell back to Earth within the approved safety corridor in the Atlantic Ocean without achieving orbit.

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Virgin Orbit said in a statement: “The data is indicating that from the beginning of the second stage first burn, a fuel filter within the fuel feedline had been dislodged from its normal position.”

Chief executive Dan Hart said: “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.

“Our investigation is not yet complete; the team is hard at work and we’ll pursue the cause and contributors to wherever the system analysis takes us.

“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.

“With those modifications being incorporated on our factory floor, we will proceed cautiously toward the launch of our next rocket, which is well into the integration and test process.”

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