LONDON (AP) — British space officials and scientists said Tuesday they were disappointed but not discouraged after Britain’s first attempt to launch satellites into orbit failed.
US-based Virgin Orbit attempted its first international launch late Monday, using a modified jumbo jet to lift a rocket from Cornwall in southwest England over the Atlantic Ocean.
The aircraft launched a rocket with nine small satellites for civil and domestic use. But about two hours after the plane took off, the company reported “an anomaly that prevented us from reaching orbit.”
The plane, piloted by a Royal Air Force pilot, returned to Cornwall. The rocket and satellites were destroyed.
“Honestly, we feel terrible – I’m not going to lie” – Melissa Thorpe, head of Spaceport Cornwall. he said.
“It’s not the first time we’ve been hit, this is by far the biggest but I feel good, we’ll get up and go again,” she said.
Virgin Orbit, founded by British transport and telecommunications tycoon Richard Branson, has previously completed four similar launches from California.
Hundreds of people gathered at the takeoff in Cornwall cheered as Virgin Atlantic’s modified Boeing 747 Cosmic Girl took off late Monday. After about an hour of flight, the plane fired a rocket at an altitude of about 35,000 feet (about 10,000 meters) above the Atlantic Ocean south of Ireland.
Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart said that “a technical failure appears to have prevented us from delivering the final orbit.”
“While we are very proud of the many things we have successfully accomplished as part of this mission, we are aware that we have failed to provide our customers with the launch service they deserve,” he said.
The mission was the result of a collaboration between the British Space Agency, the Royal Air Force, Virgin Orbit and the Cornwall Council.
The UK hopes to become a major player in building and launching satellites and is building a spaceport in the Shetland Islands north of Scotland, as well as in Cornwall.
British business secretary Grant Shapps said Monday’s launch was a “great moment” despite the setback.
“Space is tough,” Shapps told Sky News.
“It didn’t work. I have no doubt that they will pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and go again when they find out what exactly went wrong,” he said.