The Virgin Orbit mission to deploy satellites into space failed after an ‘anomaly’ prevented the rocket from reaching it’s destination height.
In chaotic scenes the team behind the ambitious first UK launch announced they had succeeded in reaching orbit. But then moments later they said an ‘anomaly’ had actually stopped the LauncherOne getting far enough into space.
It was thought history would be made in the UK on Monday night as the first-ever orbital space launch took off from Cornwall just after 10pm.
British astronaut Tim Peake branded the mission’s outcome as ‘disappointing’ and said: ‘Getting to space is hard and valuable lessons will be learned.’
History was made in the UK on Monday night when a repurposed 747 jumbo jet – named Cosmic Girl by Virgin (pictured) – took off from Newquay Airport in Cornwall
The rocket was successfully released from the jumbo jet at 35,000 feet (around 10,000 meters) over the Atlantic Ocean to the south of Ireland at 11.10pm
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Virgin Orbit announced the rocket failed to reach it’s destination height on Monday night. Officials are pictured sharing the devastating news
British astronaut Tim Peake branded the mission’s outcome as ‘disappointing’ and said: ‘Getting to space is hard and valuable lessons will be learned’
Matt Archer, from the UK Space Agency, said the second stage of the launch suffered an ‘anomaly’, the cause of which was under investigation.
‘In effect the rocket has not reached the required altitude to maintain its orbit or deploy the satellites and therefore the mission was unsuccessful,’ he told reporters at Spaceport Cornwall.
‘Over the coming days, there will be an investigation involving the Government and various bodies, including Virgin Orbit, to make sure we understand what caused that technical failure and again we’ll work out what to do next following that.
A repurposed 747 jumbo jet – named Cosmic Girl by Virgin – took off from Newquay Airport at 10.02pm on Monday, after all the commercial flights had ended.
Viewers whooped and danced to Start Me Up by the Rolling Stones as the jet took off, with people climbing onto each other shoulders to see the launch.
Named in tribute to the Stones’ 1981 hit, the mission involves a repurposed Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 and Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket.
The 747, dubbed Cosmic Girl, took off horizontally from the new facility while carrying the rocket under a wing.
Shortly after the launch, Virgin Orbit tweeted: ‘LauncherOne has once again successfully reached Earth orbit!’
The rocket was successfully released from the jumbo jet at 11.10pm over the Atlantic Ocean to the south of Ireland at 35,000 feet (around 10,000 meters).
The rocket was carrying nine small satellites meant for UK defence monitoring, while others were for businesses such as those working in navigational technology.
In a series of tweets, Virgin Orbit said: ‘We appear to have an anomaly that has prevented us from reaching orbit. We are evaluating the information.
‘As we find out more, we’re removing our previous tweet about reaching orbit. We’ll share more info when we can.’
Melissa Thorpe, head of Spaceport Cornwall, told reporters: ‘I’m not going to lie, it’s gutting – we all heard at different times, so once we all got together, there were tears, and it was very upsetting.‘
She said: ‘I’m absolutely devastated.
‘We put our heart and soul into this, it’s such a personal journey for me as well – my family were here so yeah, it’s pretty pretty rough.’
While engineers tried to establish what went wrong, the plane returned to Spaceport Cornwall safely.
The Virgin Orbit mission to deploy satellites into space failed on Monday night after an ‘anomaly’ prevented the rocket from reaching it’s destination height
The operator later deleted the message after the rocket failed to reach orbit
A video grab taken from the live feed of Virgin Orbit of the Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket after it was launched from a repurposed Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 aircraft, named Cosmic Girl, at 35,000ft over the Atlantic Ocean to the south of Ireland, as part of the Start Me Up mission and the first rocket launch from UK
A repurposed Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 aircraft, named Cosmic Girl, carrying Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket, takes off from Spaceport Cornwall
Cosmic Girl is pictured early Tuesday morning after having successfully landed back at the spaceport in Cornwall
People at Cornwall Airport Newquay react as Britain’s first satellite failed to reach orbit
A launch watcher looks disappointed after learning Britain’s first satellite failed to reach orbit
Those who attended the launch are seen reacting to the devastating news of failure
Virgin Orbit’s specially-adapted 747 jumbo jet (pictured) with a rocket attached to its belly took off from Cornwall Spaceport
Despite the hiccup, it has still been a momentous night for the country’s space industry, as the UK officially entered the space race more than 70 years after the British Space Programme was established in 1952.
Cosmic Girl reached an altitude of 35,000ft and deployed LauncherOne when it reached the launch zone above the Atlantic Ocean, just off the south coast of Ireland.
Mathew ‘Stanny’ Stannard, an RAF Squadron Leader who is on secondment as Virgin Orbit’s chief pilot, was at the controls, while his co-pilot Eric Bippert pushed the ‘Big Red Button’ to drop Sir Richard Branson’s rocket at about 23:10 GMT.
This made the jumbo bank hard to the right, taking it away from the moment the rocket ignited four seconds after falling.
LauncherOne then hurtled towards space at 8,000 mph, heading in the direction of Portugal as it ascended, before breaking through the Earth’s atmosphere.
To prepare Cosmic Girl for the launch the interior of the main deck was gutted of all seats and overhead bins to reduce the weight.
The upper deck, which was the former premium and economy cabin, has been converted into a small mission control room for launch engineers to oversee the mission the during flight.
Once the Boeing 747 reached the drop site, the pilots flew her in a looping ‘racetrack’ pattern ahead of the rocket launch.
Cosmic Girl returned to Cornwall Spaceport at about 23:55 GMT.
A former Virgin passenger plane took off from Newquay Airport on Monday night, before heading out to the Atlantic and dropping a rocket that will fly nine satellites into space
A former passenger plane had been modified to release a Virgin Orbit rocket carrying nine small satellites into space
A long exposure captures the Virgin Orbit plane Cosmic Girl over Beacon Cove and Newquay as it heads out to launch the UK’s first satellites on Monday night
A repurposed 747 jumbo jet – named Cosmic Girl by Virgin – took off from Newquay Airport at 10.02pm on Monday, after all the commercial flights had ended
Dan Hart, CEO of Virgin Orbit, gives a speech during an event around Britain’s first satellite launch at Cornwall Airport Newquay
A silent disco was held before the launch. Participants were seen dancing in a conga line alongside a replica of the rocket
Celebrating the historic launch, Science Minister George Freeman told The Daily Mail before news of the hiccup: ‘We’ve been a powerhouse in space for years but I’d liken us to a Formula One pit lane, but without a car in the race, and tonight we have that car, and it’s just the start, and we’re already planning the next launches.
‘This is genuinely historic, the UK winning the European race to be the first country to launch satellites, with our allies the Norwegians close behind us.
‘The Norwegians beat us in two races to the North and South Pole, so this is a nice chance to level the field.
‘Tonight marks the dawn of a new era for UK space that will inspire a new generation of space scientists and innovators, and lay the foundations for technological leadership, just as the Apollo mission did for the USA in the 1960s.’
Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, said after the launch: ‘We think over the next decade or so there will be huge opportunities – probably about £50billion worth – of launches of these satellites.’
Approximately 2,00 people attended the launch including a person dressed as a green alien, with a sign saying ‘take me home’
Only 2,000 tickets were available for the launch and they were all snapped up shortly after they being released. Pictured: Spectators gathered at the airport for the launch
Spectators gather to watch the first ever UK launch of Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket from Spaceport Cornwall in Newquay
One family told Sky News it was ‘exciting’ to be able to witness ‘history in the making’
Viewers attending Monday night’s launch included a person dressed as a green alien, with a sign saying ‘take me home’.
Only 2,000 tickets were available for the launch and they were all snapped up shortly after they being released.
A further 75,000 people watched the take-off online.
‘It is exciting,’ a mother who came to the launch with her family told Sky News. ‘We’re waiting for history in the making.’
One of her sons, Oliver, said: ‘I’m really, really excited. It’s like a once in a lifetime experience isn’t it? To see this, first time in the UK as well, so it’s really exciting.’
George, 11, said he was ‘most excited’ to see the repurposed 747 take off.
Their brother Kieran added: ‘I’ve never seen anything like this before. I’ve never even been in an airport before, let alone see a rocket.
A silent disco was held before the launch, featuring space-themed hits including: Rocket Man by Elton John, Space Oddity by David Bowie, The Final Countdown by Europe, Walking on the Moon by The Police, Start Me Up by The Rolling Stones – the name of the Mission, the theme from Thunderbirds, The Imperial March by Star Wars, Dancing in the Moonlight by Toploader and Moondance by Van Morrison.
Silent disco participants were also seen dancing in a conga line alongside a replica of the rocket.
The Virgin Orbit space plane – named Cosmic Girl – left Newquay Airport at 22:02 GMT and is currently on its way out to the Atlantic, where it with drop the 70ft-long LauncherOne rocket that will then blast into orbit with a payload of nine satellites
A repurposed Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 aircraft, named Cosmic Girl, carrying Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket, takes off from Spaceport Cornwall at Cornwall Airport, Newquay
Around an hour into the flight, the plane will release the rocket at 35,000 feet (around 10,000 meters) over the Atlantic Ocean to the south of Ireland
Several of the satellites being launched have been built in the UK, including a research satellite from RHEA Group (pictured), which was built by Open Cosmos in Oxfordshire
A model of the LauncherOne rocket as Cosmic Girl, a Boeing 747-400 aircraft, prepares to take off at Cornwall Airport Newquay
The mission was a collaboration between the UK Space Agency, the Royal Air Force, Virgin Orbit and Cornwall Council.
It marks the first orbital space launch from UK soil and the first international launch for Virgin Orbit, founded by British billionaire Sir Richard Branson.
It was also the first commercial satellite launch from Western Europe. In the past, satellites produced in the UK had to be sent to spaceports in other countries to make their journey into space.
‘This is the start of a new era for the UK in terms of launch capabilities,’ said Ian Annett, deputy chief executive at the UK Space Agency.
He said there was strong market demand for small satellite launches and that the UK has ambitions to be ‘the hub of European launches.’
The launch was originally planned to fall on the same weekend as the Boardmasters music festival in Newquay, but it was postponed because of technical and regulatory issues.
Organisers had feared crowds may have attended the festival instead.
Mr Annett told The Daily Mail on Monday night: ‘I had a tear in my eye when I saw how many people had turned out to support this.
‘The tickets went faster than Glastonbury.’
Rosemary Coogan, the latest of the new astronauts for the European Space Agency, was one of those at the event.
A person browses Spaceport Cornwall merchandise for sale during a spectator event for Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne first UK launch at Cornwall Airport Newquay in Newquay this evening
Spaceport Cornwall merchandise was available for sale during the spectator event for Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne first UK launch at Cornwall Airport Newquay on Monday night
Adrian Grint, a 46-year-old IT consultant from St Austell in Cornwall, is pictured at the launch
The development of Spaceport Cornwall (pictured in an artist’s impression) is expected to create around 150 jobs and allow the UK to compete in the global market for deploying small satellites into Earth orbit
The mission was a collaboration between the UK Space Agency, the Royal Air Force, Cornwall Council and Virgin Orbit – owned by billionaire Sir Richard Branson. In 2021, Sir Richard flew to the edge of space in his Virgin Galactic rocket plane — beating Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Space X’s Elon Musk in the billionaire space
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Spaceport Cornwall’s development is expected to create around 150 jobs and allow the UK to compete in the global market for deploying small satellites into Earth orbit — an industry expected to be worth £3.9 billion by 2030 which Branson is hoping to tap into.
Virgin Orbit has already completed four similar launches from the US.
Sir Richard also has Virgin Galactic, which is based in the US and focused on space tourism.
In 2021, Sir Richard flew to the edge of space and back in his Virgin Galactic rocket plane — beating Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Space X’s Elon Musk in the billionaire space race.
Dan Hart, Virgin Orbit CEO, has also previously told MailOnline that human spaceflight was ‘not currently part of the company’s plans’ for the Newquay facility.
But he said Spaceport Cornwall could be used to send probes to Mars, Venus and the moon within the next three or four years.
‘Lunar missions and smaller craft bound for Venus and Mars could be launched [from Spaceport Cornwall] within the next three or four years,’ he said.
‘We’re not going to launch a Perseverance rover (currently being used by NASA to search for signs of ancient life on Mars ), for example, but smaller interplanetary probes that explore or carry out landing missions are a possibility.’
It is still too early to say whether more missions are planned in coming months, the UK Space Agency has added.
The control room is pictured after the launch of Cosmic Girl this evening
Excitement is building at Newquay Airport, ahead of the first orbital space launch on British soil this evening
Viewers attending the launch included a person dressed as a green alien, with a sign saying ‘take me home’. His name is Adrian Grint, a 46-year-old IT consultant from St Austell in Cornwall
Monday’s launch intended to mark the birth of a home-grown launch industry — more than 70 years after the British Space Programme was established in 1952.
In the past, satellites produced in the UK have needed to be sent to foreign spaceports to make their journey into space.
The Soviet Union was the first nation to carry out a successful space launch, with Sputnik 1 in October 1957, before the United States, Japan, France, China, India, Israel and Iran all followed.
North Korea achieved the feat in 2012, along with South Korea earlier this year, so Britain would be the 11th nation to carry out a space launch on its own soil.
Not only is the mission be the first of its kind from UK soil, it will also come five decades after a British-made rocket, Black Arrow, last reached space following its lift-off from Australia.
Named in tribute to the Stones’ 1981 hit, the mission involves a repurposed Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 and Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket. The 747, dubbed Cosmic Girl, took off horizontally from the new facility while carrying the rocket under a wing. The rocket was successfully released from the jumbo jet at 11.10pm
LauncherOne will catapult its onboard satellites into space at 8,000 miles per hour (pictured in an artist’s impression)
Spectators watch on a big screen at Cornwall Airport Newquay as the LauncherOne rocket takes off from Cosmic Girl
Britain did launch a rocket 50 years ago, but the launch didn’t actually occur in the UK. In 1971, a British-made rocket called Black Arrow reached space after blasting off from Australia.
Developed during the 1960s, the satellite carrier was used for four launches between 1969 and 1971, but it was its final flight which was the first and only successful orbital launch conducted by the UK.
The first and third failed, while the second was a suborbital test. No UK built rocket has been launched to space since, and never has one blasted off from British soil.
That is despite the fact that Britain is known for its expertise in manufacturing satellites.
Until now, the country lacked a way of getting its own hardware into space, but Virgin Orbit’s Spaceport Cornwall could provide a massive jolt in the arm to the UK’s satellite sector.