Virgin Orbit’s night launch failed due to explosion risk

The launch of the Virgin Orbit rocket as part of the first Straight Up night mission was urgently terminated. The start of the mission was planned for Wednesday, June 29. But during the preparatory flight, it turned out that the fuel temperature of the LauncherOne rocket went beyond the permissible limits. In order to avoid an explosion, the mission was stopped and postponed until a malfunction was detected in the hope of continuing the launch in the next few days.

Virgin Orbit’s Boeing 747 Cosmic Girl with a LauncherOne rocket under its wing. Image: Virgin Orbit

The Straight Up Mission was named after a 1988 song by Paula Abdul. The project was intended for the US Space Forces and planned to launch seven small satellites into orbit for a space test program. If launched successfully, it would be the fifth mission for Virgin Orbit and the second after the company went public after the merger with SPACEX.

To send satellites into space, Virgin Orbit — an offshoot of Richard Branson‘s space tourism company Virgin Galactic — uses a somewhat unique approach to air launch. The LauncherOne launch vehicle is designed to take off from under the wing of a modified Boeing 747 called Cosmic Girl. The plane flies over the open ocean and lifts the rocket to an altitude of 10 km, where the LauncherOne then separates and launches its main engine to put payloads into orbit. Such a launch method has a number of advantages over Virgin Orbit’s competitors — such missions are faster and cost much less, but can only launch small satellites.

The LauncherOne launch vehicle separates from the Boeing 747. Photo: Virgin Orbit

It was planned that the launch would take place from Mojave (California) at 1:00 a.m. eastern time, which would mark the company’s first launch at night. Virgin Orbit plans to repeat the night launch after the fault is detected and fixed. Since the Straight Up mission will take place at night, there will be no live broadcast of the event. However, the company promises to keep interested people informed through their social media accounts.

Earlier, Virgin Galactic canceled all passenger flights to space in 2022.

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