The United Kingdom’s attempt to become the first European nation to launch satellites into space ended in bitter disappointment early on Tuesday when Virgin Orbit said its rocket had suffered an anomaly that prevented it from reaching orbit, Reuters reported.
The “horizontal launch” mission had left from the coastal town of Newquay in southwest England, with Virgin’s LauncherOne rocket carried under the wing of a modified Boeing 747 called “Cosmic Girl”, and later released over the Atlantic Ocean.
“We appear to have an anomaly that has prevented us from reaching orbit,” the company said. “We are evaluating the information.”
The failure deals a further blow to European space ambitions after an Italian-built Vega-C rocket mission failed after lift-off from French Guiana in late December.
The rockets have since been grounded.
Europe has suffered a series of setbacks in the past year, with its key Ariane 6 launcher delayed, access to Russian Soyuz rockets blocked by the Ukraine war, Vega grounded and now a showcase launch for the burgeoning small launcher industry abandoned.
Virgin Orbit had initially said on Twitter that LauncherOne had reached earth orbit, a tweet it later deleted.
“Over the coming days there will be an investigation by the government and various bodies, including Virgin Orbit,” Matt Archer, Commercial Space Director at the UK Space Agency said.
Virgin Orbit (VORB.O), part-owned by British billionaire Richard Branson, had planned to deploy nine small satellites into lower Earth orbit (LEO) in its first mission outside its United States base.