LOS ANGELES | A rocket dropped at 10 000 metres altitude for a jumbo jet, and that file then in-orbit: the young Virgin’s Orbit failed on Monday in his first attempt to prove its technology, off the coast of California.
“The mission ended shortly after the beginning of the flight,” tweeted Virgin’s Orbit, without any detail.
The young space company founded in 2012 by the british billionaire Richard Branson wants to offer a launch service and is flexible and fast for operators of small satellites (300 to 500 kg), a booming market.
The rocket Virgin Orbit does not take off vertically. Instead, the gear 21 metres in length, called LauncherOne is slung under the left wing of an old Boeing 747, emptied and re-used. The plane was christened Cosmic Girl.
Once aloft, the plane drops the rocket, which ignites its engine to gain speed, to reach space and place in orbit its payload.
The initial phase went well Monday, according to Virgin’s Orbit. Cosmic Girl has taken off from the airport of Mojave in the californian desert, which are based many of the firms space, and then the plane flew up to the designated area for release, over the Pacific off the coast of Los Angeles.
“Cosmic Girl dropped LauncherOne!” tweeted the company.
But three minutes later, the company wrote: “We have confirmed a release correct by the device. But the mission ended shortly after the beginning of the vol Cosmic Girl and our crew are well and return to the base “.
It was a test flight, and Virgin’s Orbit had taken care to warn beforehand that it was ” the most complex we’ve ever attempted. The first few seconds after release are the most important.”
A spokesman, questioned by AFP about a potential loss of the rocket, has not responded in the immediate future.
The concept of launching airborne is nothing new. The rocket, the Pegasus of the group, Northrop Grumman, has existed since the 1990s. But Virgin Orbit intends to offer a less costly solution.
A launch airborne is more flexible than a vertical launch, since in theory, you only need an airport runway to launch, instead of a space shooter.
Richard Branson has founded another space company called Virgin Galactic, which uses a similar concept, but is designed to transport tourists and non of the satellites, during a few minutes in weightlessness, more than 80 km above the surface.
The beginning of these flights, tourist space has been repeatedly announced by Mr. Branson, for the summer of 2019, and, most recently, the summer of 2020.