Virgin Orbit explains first satellite mission from UK failed to reach orbit due to rocket fuel error | Tech News

Virgin Orbit said its first satellite mission from mainland Britain failed to reach orbit last month because a rocket fuel filter had come off.

virgin track send a jumbo jet loaded with rockets cornwall January 9th.

But excitement turned to disappointment when the rocket failed to deploy its payload of nine satellites.

Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart said the company will be “cautious” about the launch of its next rocket.

The start of the mission went as planned, with the aircraft taking off from Spaceport Cornwall, the UK’s first spaceport at Newquay Airport.

A modified Boeing 747 named Cosmic Girl flew 35,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean off the southern coast of Ireland.

There it jettisoned the 21-metre rocket containing nine small satellites that will be the first to be launched into orbit from anywhere in the UK or Western Europe.

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Why did the British rocket fail?

But organizers of the Start Me Up mission soon discovered an “anomaly” that resulted in a “premature shutdown,” meaning LauncherOne failed to reach orbit.

According to an investigation conducted by Virgin Orbit and overseen by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and the U.K. Air Accidents Investigation Branch, the vehicle “successfully performed pre-flight preparation, carrier take-off, captive-carrying flight and rocket launch.”

“The LauncherOne rocket’s ignition, first-stage flight, stage separation, second-stage ignition and fairing deployment were all nominal,” the statement added.

All of these milestones have been described as “first achievements” for any orbital launch attempt in Western Europe, but it’s at this point that things start to go awry.

Cosmic Girl aboard Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne rocket
Cosmic Girl aboard Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket

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After the first burn in the second stage, the fuel filter in the intake line came off, causing the fuel pump to run at a lower level – eventually starving the engine of fuel.

This caused the Newton 4 engine to overheat to the point of failure, causing the second stage thrust to end the mission prematurely.

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“LauncherOne has encountered an exception”

According to the statement, “the second stage and its payload fell back to Earth, landing in an approved safe corridor in the Atlantic Ocean.”

Mr Hart said the failure was “painful for everyone involved”, but the team was determined “to understand all contributing factors so that we can restart flying with better systems and a wiser team.”

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