Via Zerohedge

Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit’s first demonstration of air-launching a rocket into space ended in a very abrupt fashion.

The spaceflight firm reported the rocket, also called LauncherOne, was released from the wing of a Boeing 747 on Sunday, as the rocket booster ignited seconds later, the flight was “terminated shortly” as there was no chance of it reaching orbit. 

“We’ve confirmed a clean release from the aircraft. However, the mission terminated shortly into the flight,” the company announced in a tweet.

“Cosmic Girl [the Boeing 747 plane] and our flight crew are safe and returning to base.” It added, “The team’s already hard at work digging into the data, and we’re eager to hop into our next big test ASAP. Thankfully, instead of waiting until after our 1st flight to tackle our 2nd rocket, we’ve already completed a ton of work to get us back in the air and keep moving forward.”

The mishap suggests it will be a while before Virgin Orbit can reach its goal of sending rockets into orbit regularly. It’s not entirely clear what went wrong, but the company did warn beforehand that the chances of success were around 50%. 

“Test flights are instrumented to yield data and we now have a treasure trove of that. We accomplished many of the goals we set for ourselves, though not as many as we would have liked,” said Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart.

“Nevertheless, we took a big step forward today. Our engineers are already poring through the data. Our next rocket is waiting. We will learn, adjust, and begin preparing for our next test, which is coming up soon.”

Sunday’s flight route illustrated in the chart below: 

“The 747, known as Cosmic Girl, left Mojave Air and Space Port to the north of Los Angeles shortly before midday Pacific time (19:00 GMT / 20:00 BST), carrying the rocket, dubbed LauncherOne, under its left wing.

“At 35,000ft (10km), just west of the Channel Islands, the jet unlatched the liquid-fuelled booster to let it go into freefall.

“LauncherOne ignited its NewtonThree engine four seconds later to start the climb to orbit. But it seems it didn’t get very far,” said BBC News. 

Diagram of the LauncherOne rocket

Other pictures of the rocket

Some scenes from the air-launch 

Branson was not attendance at the time of the failed launch but was monitoring the events at a remote location. On Monday evening, Elon Musk tweeted at Virgin Orbit: “Sorry to hear that. Orbit is hard. Took us four attempts with Falcon 1.”

Virgin Orbit responded to Musk: “We appreciate that, Elon. We’re excited about the data we were able to get today.”

The goal of LauncherOne is to catapult small satellites into low Earth orbit via a Boeing 747, supposedly easier than launching a rocket from the ground… 

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