The UK attempted its first orbital space launch from UK soil on Monday evening, making it the privately-owned Virgin Orbit’s first international launch. However, it failed when a reported “anomaly” early Tuesday prevented the rocket from reaching orbit.
The repurposed Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 aircraft, named “Cosmic Girl” took off from Cornwall in southwestern England at around 10:15 pm local time (2215 GMT) and released the rocket around an hour into flight over the Atlantic Ocean, toward the south of Ireland.
However, Virgin Orbit said it appeared to have an “anomaly” in a satellite launch, saying it had prevented the rocket from reaching orbit. “We are evaluating the information,” it said.
The rocket was carrying nine small satellites and was dubbed “Start Me Up,” as in the Rolling Stones song.
A crowd of around 2,000 people attended the takeoff in Cornwall.
The nine satellites the rocket was set to bring into orbit had to be used for both civil and defense purposes.
The commercial satellite launch, described by Virgin Orbit as “history-making,” was not only the first in the UK but in the whole of Western Europe, according to the UK Space Agency.
Though the UK has produced satellites in the past, they were sent to spaceports abroad to be launched into space.
Ian Annett, deputy chief executive at the UK Space Agency, said, “This is the start of a new era for the UK in terms of launch capabilities.” He added that the UK had ambitions for being ”the hub of European launches.”
More small satellites were built in the UK than anywhere outside of the US, and the UK was also the home of operation centers for satellite telecommunication companies.
“So we have the full spectrum except launch,” Annett told the Reuters news agency. “If you have a launch, you have everything.
“Previously in 2022 and 2021, Virgin Orbit launched four similar missions from California after some failed attempts. (DW)