Virgin Orbit test launch ends with controlled explosion

26th May 2020
Virgin Orbit

Virgin Orbit were hoping for today to be one of celebration as they sent their LauncherOne rocket on its inaugural mission from the wing of a Boeing 747 that took off from the Mojave desert. However, things didn’t go according to plan.

The Boeing 747 (named Cosmic Girl) took off with the LauncherOne rocket clamped underneath one of the aircraft’s wings. Once over the Pacific Ocean, just off the coast of California, the rocket was released. Not long after its release an anomaly lead to the Virgin Orbit team having to terminate the mission – by remotely destroying the rocket.

Virgin Orbit
The LauncherOne rocket can be seen firing its engine just prior to the controlled explosion.

Richard Branson’s troubles have been propping up the front pages for a while of late with the collapse of Virgin Australia and Virgin Atlantic in severe financial difficulty, which lead to a bailout request to the UK government, which was promptly refused amidst public fury. Branson then put shares in Virgin Galactic, his space tourism company, up for sale to raise the funds required to keep his airline afloat.

The company started off by sharing a video on social media of the plane taking off (so far so good)…

No details were given on the reason for the rocket failure other than that they terminated the mission, so we know it wasn’t an unplanned explosion.

As we have reported previously, Virgin Orbit plan to have an identical operation in Cornwall. Although this setback won’t bode well for that. And we would expect the UK to seek assurances that stringent safety measures were in place to assure the locals around the Newquay Airport that there was no risk of a similar incident happening there.

The team will no doubt have gathered a lot of “data” from the launch experience, but that doesn’t take away from the catastrophic failure of what has been a project five years in the making. This was intended to be a significant step towards the UK’s step into space and it wasn’t. It was a damp squid… literally.

Update: Virgin Orbit release a detailed video of the operation. No explanation of what went wrong yet:

It seems that Richard Branson is not only the man “not to take us into space” exploration or using space for the improvement of our own planet, he is also an abject failure. It’s extremely difficult to support that. And as sad as that may sound, we really, really wanted to… but we can’t.

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