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Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne Experiences Anomaly During Test

By Rachel Jewett | May 26, 2020

Virgin Orbit’s test of LauncherOne. Photo: Virgin Orbit

Virgin Orbit ended the launch demonstration of its small satellite air-launched LauncherOne rocket early on Monday, when an anomaly occurred early in the first stage of the rocket’s flight.

Much of the test went according to plan. Virgin Orbit said it successfully completed pre-launch procedures, the captive carry flight out to the drop site,telemetry lock from multiple dishes, a pass through the racetrack, terminal count, and a clean release. After being released from the carrier aircraft, the LauncherOne rocket successfully lighted its booster engine on cue — marking the first time the company had attempted an in-air ignition. At that point, an anomaly occurred and the mission was terminated. The carrier aircraft Cosmic Girl and crew landed safely at Mojave Air and Space Port in California. 

Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart called the test a “big step forward,” and said the team’s engineers are working through the data.  

“Our team performed their pre-launch and flight operations with incredible skill today. Test flights are instrumented to yield data and we now have a treasure trove of that. We accomplished many of the goals we set for ourselves, though not as many as we would have liked,” Hart said. “We will learn, adjust, and begin preparing for our next test, which is coming up soon.”

Virgin Orbit already has multiple rockets in production, which it says will allow it to progress to the next attempt faster. The company’s next rocket is in final stages of integration at its Long Beach manufacturing facility, with and a half-dozen other rockets are in the works as well.