News FAILURE: Virgin Orbit LaunchOne Orbital Test Flight 25th May 2020

Nicholas Kang

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Apr 3, 2016
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They shall return next time!


Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne rocket ignites its first stage engine seconds after release from the Boeing 747 aircraft that ferried it to the drop zone. The engine shut down a "handful of seconds" later, causing the launch to fail. Credit: Virgin Orbit

Cosmic Girl's takeoff and landing:

WASHINGTON — Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne failed to reach orbit in its first launch attempt May 25, with the mission “terminated” moments after the rocket’s release from its aircraft.

The company’s “Cosmic Girl” aircraft, a modified Boeing 747, took off from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California at 2:56 p.m. Eastern, after a launch attempt May 24 was scrubbed because of a faulty sensor on the rocket. After a 54-minute flight to the designated launch zone, near the Channel Islands off the Southern California coast, the plane released the LauncherOne rocket from its left wing.

However, Virgin Orbit, which did not provide a live webcast of the launch but instead offered updates via social media, tweeted moments later that while there was a “clean release” of the rocket from the aircraft, “the mission terminated shortly into the flight.”

“We ignited the engine, and it looks like successfully,” Dan Hart, chief executive of Virgin Orbit, said in a phone interview a few hours after the launch. “It flew for a handful of seconds, and then we had an issue.”

Hart said that what that issue was — an “anomaly” as described by the company in a statement after the launch — is not yet known. It did, though, cause the NewtonThree engine powering the rocket’s first stage to shut down.

Virgin Orbit acknowledged that achieving orbit on a first launch would be difficult, noting that, based on historical records, only about 50% of first launches of new vehicles are successful. The second LauncherOne rocket is nearing completion at the company’s factory, with several more in various stages of production.

Reports of Debris from San Nicolas Island:

[ame=""]James Hyde on Twitter: "We have debris fallout being picked up on radar (KVTX) from the @Virgin_Orbit rocket test failure off the coast of San Nicolas Island, CA. First echos were 19:53 UTC at ~20,000 ft.
I'm sure they'll be back!

Company executives emphasized prior to the flight, including a media briefing May 23, that simply igniting the NewtonThree engine in the rocket’s first stage would be a key milestone for the flight. Hart said that the events leading up to the release and ignition of the first stage went smoothly.

“What we did today is really demonstrated the challenging aspects of air launch,” he said. “Even though it was not as long a flight as we’d liked, we did burn down quite a lot of the risks associated with flying, and learned a lot about how the vehicle behaves.”

Hart said that engineers will spend the next several weeks reviewing the data from the launch attempt, while others continue working on the next LauncherOne rocket. The results of the investigation may lead to additional testing of that next rocket or other changes, the extent of which is not yet clear.

And their next rocket:

[ame=""]Virgin Orbit on Twitter: "Here's our next rocket, built and ready for system-level testing in our final integration area as it waits for its turn to fly to space.…"[/ame]

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Scott Manley covers it here