Virgin Orbit Says Dislodged Fuel Filter Led to UK Launch Failure
Virgin Orbit released more details about its January mission from the United Kingdom that failed, reporting that data showed there was a dislodged fuel filter.
Virgin Orbit said a fuel filter in the fuel feedline was dislodged from its normal position. In addition, a fuel pump located downstream of the filter was operating at a lower level, not giving the Newton 4 engine enough fuel. The engine was then operating at a significantly higher temperature.
With the abnormally hot engine, downstream components malfunctioned, causing the second stage thrust to terminate prematurely.The launcher said it is going through a detailed action plan to determine the root cause or causes of the failure and the investigation is still ongoing.
“In space launch, a failure is painful for all involved. Intense disappointment gets quickly channeled into the motivation to dig into the cause, to understand all contributing elements and to thereby get back to flight with a better system and a wiser team. Our investigation is not yet complete; the team is hard at work and we’ll pursue the cause and contributors to wherever the system analysis takes us,” Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart said.
“However, with many clear clues from extensive data assessment now understood, we are modifying our next rocket with a more robust filter and we are looking broadly to assure that all credible contributors to mission failure are rooted out and addressed,” Hart added. “With those modifications being incorporated on our factory floor, we will proceed cautiously toward the launch of our next rocket, which is well into the integration and test process.”
It was a high profile failure for Virgin Orbit on what was supposed to be a celebratory and historic mission: the first orbital satellite launch from the U.K., the first commercial orbital launch from western Europe and Virgin Orbit’s first international launch.
Virgin Orbit expects its next launch to take off from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California for a commercial customer.