The maiden flight of the Virgin Orbit LauncherOne rocket has failed. The exact nature of the failure is not yet known.
At approximately 19:26 UTC, the Virgin Orbit Cosmic Girl carrier aircraft took off from the Mojave Air and Space Port with a LauncherOne rocket tucked under its wing. Around 25 minutes later, the company confirmed on Twitter that the LauncherOne rocket had been released from the left wing of Cosmic Girl.
The LauncherOne was expected to then fire its single first stage NewtonThree engine propelling the rocket skyward. As the minutes ticked by without an announcement of a successful ignition, the probability that it had happened quickly shrank.
Three minutes after confirming the release of the LauncherOne vehicle, the company revealed the mission had been “terminated shortly into the flight.” The tweet added that the flight crew aboard the carrier aircraft were safe and returning to base.
At approximately 20:31 UTC, Virgin Orbit tweeted a likely despondent crew of the Cosmic Girl carrier aircraft had returned to Mojave “safe and sound.”
Prior to this evening’s launch, Virgin Orbit had tempered expectations for the maiden LauncherOne mission. In a May 20 press release, the company explained that the pursuit of spaceflight is hard and that maiden flights often end in failure.
“There’s a long list of factors that need to line up in order to make it all the way. We’re mindful of the fact that for the governments and companies who have preceded us in developing spaceflight systems, maiden flights have statistically ended in failure about half of the time.”
Despite the expectation that the launch may end in failure, the press release concluded on a hopeful note.
“Regardless of the ultimate conclusion of this Launch Demo, we’re excited to learn as much as we can.”