The historic first attempt to launch satellites from British soil reached space late last night, but ultimately fell short of reaching its target orbit.
After successfully taking off from the runway at Spaceport Cornwall – which just a few weeks ago was transformed from a mere slab of empty cement at a commercial airport to the world’s newest space launch operations center – and travelling to the designated drop zone, Cosmic Girl, the customized 747 that serves as the LauncherOne system’s carrier aircraft, successfully released the rocket.
The rocket then ignited its engines, quickly going hypersonic and successfully reaching space. The flight then continued through successful stage separation and ignition of the second stage. However, at some point during the firing of the rocket’s second stage engine and with the rocket travelling at a speed of more than 11,000 miles per hour, the system experienced an anomaly, ending the mission prematurely.
Though the mission did not achieve its final orbit, by reaching space and achieving numerous significant first-time achievements, it represents an important step forward. The effort behind the flight brought together new partnerships and integrated collaboration from a wide range of partners, including the UK Space Agency, the Royal Air Force, the Civil Aviation Authority, the US Federal Aviation Administration, the National Reconnaissance Office, and more, and demonstrated that space launch is achievable from UK soil.
Out of five LauncherOne missions carrying payloads for private companies and governmental agencies, this is the first to fall short of delivering its payloads to their precise target orbit.