UK’s first satellite launch fails to reach orbit

The UK’s first ever satellite launch has ended in failure after the rocket released by Virgin Orbit failed to reach orbit. 

Despite a successful initial take off from Spaceport Cornwall by Cosmic Girl, the modified 747 jet that was used to launch the rocket to space, the mission control team then reported an ‘anomaly’ had ended the attempt early.

Matt Archer, the UK Space Agency’s Director of Commercial Spaceflight, said: ‘While this result is disappointing, launching a spacecraft always carries significant risks. 

‘Despite this, the project has succeeded in creating a horizontal launch capability at Spaceport Cornwall, and we remain committed to becoming the leading provider of commercial small satellite launch in Europe by 2030, with vertical launches planned from Scotland.’ 

Nine satellites from around the world were part of the payload being launched by the space company, owned by British billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson, including the first Welsh satellite which would have tested tech to fabricate unique materials in space. 

Other technology that was attempted to be launched included radio systems to monitor ships at sea and detect illegal fishing, multiple imaging satellites, and ‘space weather’ sensors monitoring the interaction of magnetic fields between the Sun and Earth’s atmosphere. 

According to Virgin Orbit, the failed launch marks the first time that the Launcher One rocket has not delivered ‘its payloads to their precise target orbit’ in five total missions.

Virgin Orbit CEO, Dan Hart, 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.’ 

Whilst the exact nature of the ‘anomaly’ that caused the mission failure has not been revealed, the company and relevant government organisations have said they will be looking into what went wrong and reporting their findings in due course. 

Spaceport Cornwall, where the launch originated, became the UK’s first licenced spaceport in November last year, with multiple other sites vying for the licence including in Scotland.

Photos: Virgin Orbit/Greg Robinson


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