Virgin Orbit has attempted the first test flight of its orbital payload launch system, consisting of a modified Boeing 747 and an air-launched rocket. The mission, however, failed moments after the rocket was released.
The carrier aircraft and its rocket – dubbed ‘Cosmic Girl’ and ‘Launcher One,’ respectively – took off from an airfield outside Los Angeles on Monday in the California-based company’s debut test flight, heading for a drop point over the Pacific.
According to Virgin Orbit, both the plane and rocket were in “healthy” shape throughout the mission and everything appeared to be going according to plan – but at the last minute the test fell apart.
We’ve confirmed a clean release from the aircraft. However, the mission terminated shortly into the flight.
While it did not elaborate on what exactly went wrong, presumably the rocket crashed into the sea soon after separation. Luckily, the launch failure did not affect the aircraft and it was able to safely return to the airfield with its crew intact. The company said its team would now sift through the data collected, noting that work on a second rocket was already underway.
Fellow private space maverick Elon Musk, the founder and CEO of SpaceX, offered consolation to the Virgin Orbit team, explaining that his own company needed four tries to put its Falcon 1 rocket successfully into orbit.
While the company said it hoped to do more with its first test, it added that “key objectives” were nonetheless accomplished with the launch.
“As we said before the flight, our goals today were to work through the process of conducting a launch, learn as much as we could, and achieve ignition,” Orbit said. “We hoped we could have done more, but we accomplished those key objectives today.”