The historic first attempt to launch satellites from British soil reached space late last night, but ultimately fell short of reaching its target orbit.
After successfully taking off from the runway at Spaceport Cornwall – which just a few weeks ago was transformed from a mere slab of empty cement at a commercial airport to the world’s newest space launch operations center – and travelling to the designated drop zone, Cosmic Girl, the customized 747 that serves as the LauncherOne system’s carrier aircraft, successfully released the rocket.
The rocket then ignited its engines, quickly going hypersonic and successfully reaching space. The flight then continued through successful stage separation and ignition of the second stage. However, at some point during the firing of the rocket’s second stage engine and with the rocket travelling at a speed of more than 11,000 miles per hour, the system experienced an anomaly, ending the mission prematurely.
Though the mission did not achieve its final orbit, by reaching space and achieving numerous significant first-time achievements, it represents an important step forward. The effort behind the flight brought together new partnerships and integrated collaboration from a wide range of partners, including the UK Space Agency, the Royal Air Force, the Civil Aviation Authority, the US Federal Aviation Administration, the National Reconnaissance Office, and more, and demonstrated that space launch is achievable from UK soil.
Out of five LauncherOne missions carrying payloads for private companies and governmental agencies, this is the first to fall short of delivering its payloads to their precise target orbit.
Dan Hart, Virgin Orbit CEO, said: “While we are very proud of the many things that we successfully achieved as part of this mission, 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.”
Matt Archer, Director of Commercial Spaceflight at the UK Space Agency, said: “Last night, Virgin Orbit attempted the first orbital launch from Spaceport Cornwall. We have shown the UK is capable of launching into orbit, but the launch was not successful in reaching the required orbit. We will work closely with Virgin Orbit as they investigate what caused the anomaly in the coming days and weeks. While this result is disappointing, launching a spacecraft always carries significant risks. Despite this, the project has succeeded in creating a horizontal launch capability at Spaceport Cornwall, and we remain committed to becoming the leading provider of commercial small satellite launch in Europe by 2030, with vertical launches planned from Scotland.”
Melissa Thorpe, Head of Spaceport Cornwall, added: “We are so incredibly proud of everything we have achieved with our partners and friends across the space industry here in the UK and in the US – we made it to space – a UK first. Unfortunately we learned that Virgin Orbit experienced an anomaly which means we didn’t achieve a successful mission. Today we inspired millions, and we will continue to look to inspire millions more. Not just with our ambition but also with our fortitude. Yes, space is hard, but we are only just getting started.”
ABOUT VIRGIN ORBIT
Virgin Orbit (Nasdaq: VORB) operates one of the most flexible and responsive space launch systems ever built. Founded by Sir Richard Branson in 2017, the Company began commercial service in 2021, and has already delivered commercial, civil, national security, and international satellites into orbit. Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rockets are designed and manufactured in Long Beach, California, and are air-launched from a modified 747-400 carrier aircraft that allows Virgin Orbit to operate from locations all over the world in order to best serve each customer’s needs. Learn more at www.virginorbit.com and visit us on LinkedIn, on Twitter @virginorbit, and on Instagram @virgin.orbit.
CAUTIONARY STATEMENT REGARDING FORWARD-LOOKING STATEMENTS
This press release contains certain forward-looking statements within the meaning of the federal securities laws. These forward-looking statements generally are identified by the words “believe,” “project,” “expect,” “anticipate,” “estimate,” “intend,” “strategy,” “future,” “opportunity,” “plan,” “may,” “should,” “will,” “would,” “will be,” “will continue,” “will likely result,” and similar expressions. Forward-looking statements are predictions, projections and other statements about future events that are based on current expectations and assumptions and, as a result, are subject to risks and uncertainties. Many factors could cause actual future events to differ materially from the forward-looking statements in this press release, including but not limited to the ability of Virgin Orbit Holdings, Inc. ("Virgin Orbit" or the “Company”) to access sources of capital; its ability to grow market share in the developing space economy; market acceptance of its current and planned products and services and ability to achieve sufficient production volumes, as well as the factors, risks and uncertainties included in the Company’s Quarterly Report on Form 10-Q for the period ended Sept. 30, 2022 as well as in the Company’s subsequent filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”), accessible on the SEC’s website at www.sec.gov and the Investor Information section of the Company’s website at www.virginorbit.com. Forward-looking statements speak only as of the date they are made. Readers are cautioned not to put undue reliance on forward-looking statements, and Virgin Orbit assumes no obligation and does not intend to update or revise these forward-looking statements, whether as a result of new information, future events, or otherwise. Virgin Orbit gives no assurance that it will achieve its expectations.
"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.” - Dan Hart, Virgin Orbit CEO
Alison Patch, Senior Director of Communications (US)
+1 949 616 2504
Charlotte Sjoberg, Virgin (UK)
+44 7766 240821
UK Space Agency
Gareth Bethell, Chief Communications Officer
+44 925 891 949
Georgia Jaggs, Halo PR
+44 7594 358041
Civil Aviation Authority
Robert Crawford, Media Lead
+44 33 0138 4156