An illustration of Virgin Orbit's "Cosmic Girl" airplane with an orbit-capable rocker, LauncherOne, strapped to its wing.

Virgin Orbit successfully dropped a rocket from a jumbo jet and ignited it, but its launch failed due to an 'anomaly'


Virgin Orbit

After postponing its long-awaited rocket launch by a day, Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne rocket had a successful release from a jumbo jet.

However, an unidentified problem forced Richard Branson's orbital launch company to terminate the mission shortly after the jet, called the Cosmic Girl, dropped the rocket into the air. 

Virgin said in a series of tweets that Cosmic Girl and its flight crew had safely returned to their base in Mojave, California. The company also said that an unspecified "anomaly" occurred shortly after the rocket's engines ignited.

"After being released from the carrier aircraft, the LauncherOne rocket successfully lighted its booster engine on cue — the first time the company had attempted an in-air ignition. An anomaly then occurred early in first stage flight, and the mission safely terminated," the company said in a press release shared with Business Insider. "The carrier aircraft Cosmic Girl and all of its crew landed safely at Mojave Air and Space Port, concluding the mission." 

According to Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who closely follows spaceflight activity, the drop of the rocket occurred at a spot above the North Pacific Ocean. "First launches are tough," McDowell said in a tweet.

A Next Generation Weather Radar (NEXRAD) system located in Los Angeles reportedly captured what appeared to be the breakup of the rocket, according to footage shared on Twitter. 


'Orbit is hard'
The LauncherOne rocket attached to the Cosmic Girl jumbo jet.

Virgin Orbit

Elon Musk sent his condolences to Virgin for the failed launch attempt.

"Sorry to hear that. Orbit is hard. Took us four attempts with Falcon 1," the SpaceX CEO said in a tweet, referring to the aerospace company's first launch system that rocketed a payload into orbit around Earth.

"We appreciate that, Elon. We're excited about the data we were able to get today," the company responded on Twitter.

The launch was originally scheduled for Sunday, but Virgin Orbit postponed it to Monday morning out of an "abundance of caution" because a sensor had been "acting up," the company said on social media. Ahead of Monday's launch, Virgin Orbit said on Twitter that it felt "more ready than ever" to launch the rocket.

Despite the disappointing failure, Virgin Orbit noted its test flight wasn't entirely awash.

"The company successfully completed all of its pre-launch procedures, the captive carry flight out to the drop site, clean telemetry lock from multiple dishes, a smooth pass through the racetrack, terminal count, and a clean release," the press release said. In a tweet, Virgin added that the "goals today were to work through the process of conducting a launch, learn as much as we could, and achieve ignition. We hoped we could have done more, but we accomplished those key objectives today."

The company also indicated that it's ready to try again, sharing a photo of its next fully built rocket in a hangar.

In the press release, Virgin said its next rocket was in "final stages of integration" at a manufacturing facility in Long Beach, Calif.

"Our next rocket is waiting. We will learn, adjust, and begin preparing for our next test, which is coming up soon," CEO Dan Hart said in the press release. 

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