Britain’s attempt to become the first European nation to launch satellites into space from mainland European soil ended in bitter disappointment as it suffered an anomaly that prevented it from reaching orbit.
The Virgin Orbit planned horizontal launch mission, in which a rocket would be carried under the wing of a customized Boeing 747 before being released and ignited over the Atlantic Ocean had left from the coastal town of Newquay in southwest England.
“Cosmic Girl” took off in the presence of hundreds of space enthusiasts who gathered at Cornwall Airport in south-west England at around 10:15 p.m., and later released over the Atlantic Ocean.
But the announcement that the mission hadn’t gone to plan came just before midnight on an official livestream of the event. “We appear to have an anomaly that has prevented us from reaching orbit,” the announcement said. “We are evaluating the information.”
This failure deals a further blow to European space ambitions after an Italian-built Vega-C rocket mission failed after lift-off from French Guiana in late December.
Virgin Orbit had initially said in a now deleted Twitter post that LauncherOne had reached earth orbit.
“Over the coming days there will be an investigation by the government and various bodies, including Virgin Orbit,” Matt Archer, Commercial Space Director at the UK Space Agency said.
Britain has only ever successfully completed one orbital launch—the Black Arrow rocket launched in Australia in 1971.