Richard Branson’s Latest Failure Could End In Doom

Richard Branson's Latest Failure Could End In Doom

( – Last Monday’s first historic mission to launch satellites from British soil failed after Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne suffered an “anomaly” during the rocket’s second stage.

After a successful takeoff from Spaceport Cornwall, Virgin Orbit’s customized Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 aircraft Cosmic Girl traveled to the designated drop zone to release the LauncherOne system’s rocket. The rocket then reached space and continued through stage separation and ignition of the second stage. But at some point during ignition, the system experienced an anomaly that ended the mission prematurely.

This is the first of five LauncherOne missions to fall short of delivering its payload to the precise target orbit.

The rocket was taking nine small satellites for mixed civil and defense use into orbit including two CubeSats for the UK Ministry of Defense, a first test satellite from the Welsh manufacturing startup Space Force, and what would have been the first Earth-observation satellite from Oman.

In a statement, Virgin Orbit said the anomaly prematurely terminated the first burn of the upper stage’s engines at an altitude of about 180 kilometers. The engine anomaly caused the rocket components and payload to fall back to earth, where they were destroyed during reentry.

With the news of the aborted mission, shares in Virgin Orbit dropped by as much as 20 percent the following day.

According to Virgin, engineers and board members are analyzing the mission telemetry data to determine the cause of the anomaly. A formal investigation into the source of the failure will be led by Virgin Orbit chief engineer Chad Foerster. Once the investigation is complete, corrective measures will be implemented before LauncherOne’s next flight from Mojave Air and Space Port in California. However, it is unclear how long that will take.

Last week’s failed mission is a blow to Virgin Orbit, which is already facing dwindling cash reserves.

By the end of FY2022, Virgin Orbit, founded by billionaire Richard Branson, had $71 million cash on hand. In late December, Branson’s Virgin Group injected another $25 million into the company and Virgin Investments Ltd put in an additional $20 million.

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