UK's first orbital space launch ends in failure after suffering ‘anomaly’
'We put so much into this, everybody has, so it is absolutely gutting', the spaceport director said.
The first-ever satellite mission launched from UK soil has ended in failure. A jumbo jet operated by the American Virgin Orbit company carried a rocket out of Newquay, Cornwall, to release it high over the Atlantic Ocean.
The rocket ignited and appeared to be ascending correctly. But word then came from the company that the rocket had suffered an "anomaly".
The satellites it was carrying could not be released and were lost. Cosmic Girl, the carrier 747 jet, returned safely to base.
The Virgin Orbit system is relatively new. It's only been in operation since 2020. It suffered a failure on its maiden outing but this was followed up by four successful flights.
The early indication is that there was an issue in the Newtonfour upper-stage engine.
Matt Archer, the launch programme director at the UK Space Agency, said the issue occurred in the upper segment of the rocket.
"The second-stage engine had a technical anomaly and didn't reach the required orbit," he explained.
"That's now part of an investigation by Virgin Orbit and a number of government departments," he told BBC News.
Mr Archer couldn't confirm whether the rocket fell back to Earth but said that if it did, it would have come down over unpopulated areas.
The satellites were insured so their manufacturers and operators will be compensated.
Tickets for the launch event were snapped up and there was great enthusiasm from the crowd.
More than 2,000 spectators and VIPs had gathered at Cornwall Newquay Airport to watch the 747 leave. They drifted away as news filtered through that something had gone wrong.
Monday night's failure is a blow to all those involved: Virgin Orbit, the satellite owners and Spaceport Cornwall which organised the flight.
"It's been really emotional," said Melissa Thorpe, who heads the spaceport.
"We put so much into this, everybody has, so it is absolutely gutting. But it's space and the cliché is it's hard. We know it's hard."
She added that the first part of the mission - the drop from the plane - had gone to plan and she was confident they would be able to embark on another mission in the "near future."