Virgin Orbit on Monday successfully dropped and ignited its LauncherOne rocket over the Pacific Ocean before an “anomaly” halted the demonstration.
While much of the country enjoyed a long holiday weekend, Richard Branson’s space transport company was hard at work: The team’s modified 747 (known as “Cosmic Girl”) released LauncherOne off the coast of California, where the capsule’s NewtonThree booster engine ignited—marking Virgin Orbit’s first attempt at in-air ignition.
The celebrations were cut short, however, when an anomaly occurred early in first-stage flight, forcing premature mission termination. Cosmic Girl and its crew landed safely at Mojave Air and Space Port, the company confirmed. “Test flights are instrumented to yield data and we now have a treasure trove of that,” Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart said in a statement. Engineers are currently poring over a mountain of information, hoping to find answers to Monday’s questions. There is no word yet on what may have gone wrong.
Fellow space-race participant Elon Musk shared his condolences on Twitter, writing that “Orbit is hard,” and recalling that it took SpaceX’s Falcon 1 rocket four attempts. Virgin won’t let one little setback slow it down, though. In a tweet, the company announced it is “eager to hop into our next big test ASAP.” A second rocket is already waiting in the wings at a Long Beach manufacturing facility, with half a dozen other rockets for future missions in various stages of production. “We will learn, adjust, and begin preparing for our next test, which is coming up soon,” Hart added.