The First Ever Attempt to Launch a Spacecraft in The UK Failed to Enter Orbit


What just happened? Last night, the first ever attempt to launch into orbit was made in the UK, but this event will probably be remembered for all the wrong reasons after the satellite failed to enter orbit due to an undisclosed “anomaly”. A disappointing end to what has been heralded as a new space age for the country.

The Virgin Orbit “Start Me Up” mission launched from Cornwall Cosmodrome on January 9 in front of more than 2,000 spectators, becoming the first ever attempt to launch a space flight in the UK.

In the first part of the mission, a converted Boeing 747 called Cosmic Girl successfully took off and launched a LauncherOne rocket with nine satellites off the southwest coast of Ireland at 18:11 eastern time. The engine of the NewtonThree rocket successfully launched, and the first stage headed for orbit.

Virgin One tweeted that the rocket had reached Earth orbit, but the company soon deleted the post and 28 minutes after the first tweet published a new message confirming that the anomaly did not allow the rocket to reach the required height.

Matt Archer, director of commercial spaceflight at the UK Space Agency, said that although the launch of the first stage was successful, the second stage failed. The incident will be investigated in the coming days.


The rocket and its useful satellites were lost. Archer said that his trajectory passes over the main bodies of water, so he is “completely safe.” Cosmic Girl and her team returned safely to the Cornwall Spaceport.

Ars Technica notes that the biggest loser in all this may be Virgin Orbit, an American company for launching small rockets. Although it had reached orbit on four of its first five attempts before yesterday’s failure, it is struggling to launch enough missions to break even. Engadget writes that the UK mission was particularly high-profile as it also marked the first international launch of Virgin Orbit and the first commercial launch from Western Europe.

Melissa Thorpe, head of the Cornwall Spaceport, did not hide her disappointment: “We are a stable team. It’s not the first time we’ve been knocked down, but it’s definitely the biggest. I’ll go again,” she said. “It’s just terrible, and we put our heart and soul into it. It will be even better next time.”


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