Historic Cornwall rocket mission ends in failure

Spaceport Cornwall

The first ever satellite rocket launched from UK soil  ended in failure last night.

Thousands of people had descended on Cornwall to witness the first orbital rocket launch from UK soil in what was being heralded as the start of a new era for the British space industry but were left disappointed.

A jumbo jet operated by the American Virgin Orbit company carrying a rocket was launched in Newquay.

The rocket ignited but then the company behind the ambitious project announced the rocket had suffered an anomaly.

The satellites  the jumbo was carrying could not be released and were lost. The plane itself returned to ground safely.

Matt Archer, the launch programme director at the UK Space Agency, said the problems were in the upper segment of the rocket.

“The second-stage engine had a technical anomaly and didn’t reach the required orbit,” he added.

“That’s now part of an investigation by Virgin Orbit and a number of government departments.”

It is unclear what impact the failure of the mission will have on the programme.

Dan Hart, the chief executive of Virgin Orbit, said: “We are mindful that we failed to provide our customers with the launch service they deserve. The first-time nature of this mission added layers of complexity that our team professionally managed through; however, in the end a technical failure appears to have prevented us from delivering the final orbit.

“We will work tirelessly to understand the nature of the failure, make corrective actions, and return to orbit as soon as we have completed a full investigation and mission assurance process.”

The historic Start Me Up mission was due to take off  last night from Spaceport Cornwall and was expected to see a repurposed 747 jumbo jet release a rocket over the Atlantic to take nine satellites into orbit.

There are high hopes about the impact space travel will have on the regional economy.

Newquay Airport was the starting point for the operation,  which took place shortly before midnight last night.

The launch was being heralded a a triumph for the spaceport, which has faced scepticism over the years that such an adventure could be launched from an area more associated with surfing than hi-tech projects.

UK Minister of Science Nusrat Ghani said: “As we move ever closer to the first satellite launch from UK soil, it’s excellent to see the progress being made by Virgin Orbit, Spaceport Cornwall and those across government in delivering this historic mission, the first of its kind in Europe.”

“With 47,000 jobs across the UK, our growing space industry is a vital part of the economy and has an important role to play in catalysing investment, generating growth and prosperity. I’m looking forward to working with this innovative sector and delivering on our National Space Strategy.”

Ian Annett, deputy chief executive at the UK Space Agency, said: “This is an exciting reminder that we are close to the first launch from UK soil and first launch of a satellite from Europe. This will be an iconic moment in the history of UK space endeavours, so it is fitting that the mission has been named after a song from the Rolling Stones, one of the UK’s most iconic bands.”

Melissa Thorpe, head of Spaceport Cornwall: “This is a huge moment for us all in Cornwall as the journey to UK space launch has officially begun. The mission name and patch reflect and embrace the incredible partnerships between our two countries and teams.”

Dr Mark Woods, chief strategy officer of the Bristol-based Centre for Modelling and Simulation , said: “The first ever orbital space launch from British soil is an historic moment for the Cornwall Spaceport, Virgin Orbit and the South West. “It is also a notable statement of intent that moves UK-based launch beyond an aspiration toward an accessible, commercial reality.

“As CFMS continues to grow its involvement in the space sector, we are delighted to see access to launch become a viable option, right here on our doorstep as part of the wider West of England and WECA community. Removing barriers to launch will unlock greater opportunities for regional and national businesses and we look forward to playing our part in this exciting endeavour.”


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