Virgin Orbit's rocket aiming to deliver satellites into space failed to reach orbit Monday evening, ending its "Start Me Up" mission. The launch from a modified Boeing 747-400 was Britain's first-ever orbital launch attempt from its own soil. Photo courtesy of Virgin Orbit
Jan. 9 (UPI) -- After a successful launch from Britain on Monday, Virgin Orbit confirmed its rocket carrying nine satellites failed to reach orbit, ending its "Start Me Up" mission shortly after it began.
Virgin Orbit touted its successful launch Monday evening for Britain's first-ever orbital space launch from its own soil. The private-public joint collaboration led by Virgin Orbit was supposed to deliver satellites into space
The mission launched at 10:02 p.m. local time, at Spaceport Cornwall in southwest England, to the 1981 Rolling Stones song "Start Me Up." Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne system, which was attached to a modified Boeing 747-400 nicknamed "Cosmic Girl," took off right on schedule into the night sky.
"Cosmic Girl is now on the runway, taking off. Wheels are off the ground," the mission's flight director announced Monday night before the rocket failed to reach orbit.
The rocket was loaded with nine small satellites from seven customers, including commercial and government payloads from several nations and a collaboration between Britain and the United States. The mission was a joint effort by Virgin, the U.K. Space Agency, the Cornwall Council and the Royal Air Force.
After taking off, the Boeing 747 tracked out over the Atlantic Ocean and past Ireland, before circling what is called a "race track" in the air. The plane released the rocket LauncherOne, which was declared officially in space at 11:14 p.m. local time. The plane, with its crew of four, safely returned to Spaceport Cornwall.
Earlier, Virgin Orbit tweeted that the rocket had "successfully reached Earth orbit," but announced there was a problem half an hour later, at 11:46 p.m. local time.
"We appear to have an anomaly that has prevented us from reaching orbit. We are evaluating the information," the company tweeted.
This was Virgin Orbit's sixth mission and its second launch failure. The company conducted two launches last year.
In after-hours trading on Monday, Virgin Orbit's stock fell close to 30% from its previous close of $1.93 a share.
The crew had undergone a series of test flights in the plane in order to perform the maneuver.
"After ensuring that every technical aspect is sound and every regulation and code has been satisfied, it is gratifying to see this historic endeavor on the verge of coming to fruition," Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart said earlier Monday.
"This launch represents the opening of a new era in the British space industry and new partnerships across industry, government, and allies."
"Tonight's planned first orbital space launch from the U.K. is a historic moment," said U.K. Space's President Alice Bunn. "Over the past 20 years, the U.K. space sector has built one of the most innovative and highly skilled sectors in our economy, valued at around [$17.9] billion a year.
The optimism over the mission is now on hold, as Virgin Orbit acknlowledges celebrating too soon.
"As we find out more, we're removing our previous tweet about reaching orbit," Virgin Orbit tweeted. "We'll share more info when we can."