Virgin Orbit's first attempt to launch its plane-assisted rocket from the United Kingdom did not go as planned Monday night after officials said the rocket failed to deliver its payloads in orbit.
The attempt was historic for Virgin Orbit, the UK Space Agency and Spaceport Cornwall because it would have marked the first space mission from British soil and the company's first international mission.
The Long Beach, California company founded by billionaire Richard Branson uses a former jetliner called Cosmic Girl to carry its LauncherOne rocket to 35,000 feet before releasing it for launch.
Cosmic Girl, a modified Boeing 747, took off from the Spaceport Cornwall runway Monday around 5 p.m. ET. Strapped under its wing was the LaucherOne rocket carrying seven small satellite payloads as part of the "Start Me Up" mission. Customers ranged from private companies to government agencies.
After Cosmic Girl successfully released the rocket over the Atlantic Ocean south of Ireland, LauncherOne ignited its engines and reached space, according to Virgin Orbit. However, after the second stage separation, the system experienced an unknown issue ending the mission, the company said in a statement.
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"We appear to have an anomaly that has prevented us from reaching orbit. We are evaluating the information," the company tweeted.
The target orbit for the mission was about 344 miles above Earth or 555 km. LauncherOne failed to reach its final orbit, and the payloads were not deployed.
Cosmic Girl landed safely back at Spaceport Cornwall in Newquay.
The company said out of five LauncherOne missions, this is the first to fall short of its planned orbit.
In a statement, Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart said he was proud of the launch team's partial success navigating a new launch and landing site. He said, "the first-time nature of this mission added layers of complexity," the team worked through.
"However, in the end, a technical failure appears to have prevented us from delivering the final orbit," Hart said. "We will work tirelessly to understand the nature of the failure, make corrective actions, and return to orbit as soon as we have completed a full investigation and mission assurance process."
UK Space Agency Director of Commercial Spaceflight Matt Archer said the agency would work with Virgin Orbit to investigate the cause of the failure.