SpaceNewsreports that Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne failed on its maiden flight due to a break in a propellant line. CEO Dan Hart revealed the cause of the failure on Wednesday.
“We had a component break in our engine system. It was a high-pressure feed line,” he said. Liquid oxygen “stopped going into the engine and our flight was terminated.”
The company has performed an investigation and identified what needs to be fixed in the engine to strengthen the components that failed. A second LauncherOne rocket is in final integration right now and will be leaving the factory in the next few weeks while modifications to the engine continue. “We’ll be targeting our next flight before the end of the year,” Hart said.
LauncherOne fired for about four seconds before the engine shut down. The rocket had been dropped from a modified Boeing 747 jetliner.
Last month, the Department of Defense announced it would award two rideshare launch contracts apiece to Aevum, Astra, Rocket Lab, Space Vector, X-BOW and Virgin Orbit’s subsidiary VOX Space.
Earlier this month, however, the contract awards were withdrawn so the $116 million in funding could be used for other priorities. The money came from the Defense Production Act, which is designed to help companies struggling financially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
C4ISRnetquotes Will Roper, Air Force’s assistant secretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, as saying the contracts could be awarded again.
“My hope is that whenever there’s new [Defense Production Act] Title 3 funding or when resource frees up due to other efforts not executing as planned, that those [contracts] are the first to go back into the hopper,” Roper told reporters Tuesday.
“If I were asked today to put in one new Title 3 initiative, it’s small launch because I think it’s going to be an amazing industry base for this country, and if properly influenced, my military mission can be highly disruptive in future war fighting, especially if satellites can be put up in a very responsive way that changes the calculus for holding space assets at risk.”
Of the six companies, only Rocket Lab has launched satellites into orbit. Astra has failed in several launch attempts. The maiden flight of Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne failed in late May.
Aevum, Space Vector and X-BOW have not made any orbital launch attempts.
In an effort to support its industrial based during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) has announced its intention to award 12 small satellite rideshare launches to six companies.
For about 9 seconds after drop, the flight went perfectly. Through some of the most challenging portions of our flight — release, the controlled drop, the rocket’s ignition sequence, and the initial portion of guided, powered flight — every part of our system did exactly as we designed it to do. We have solid data from hundreds of channels and sensors — and in looking at those, we see performance that is well-matched to our predictions and to the extensive data we have from our models and ground tests. This means that we have proved out via flight the foundational principles of our air-launch operations, which is the key thing that separates us from our peers in the industry.
About 9 seconds after drop, something malfunctioned, causing the booster stage engine to extinguish, which in turn ended the mission. We cannot yet say conclusively what the malfunction was or what caused it, but we feel confident we have sufficient data to determine that as we continue through the rigorous investigation we’ve already begun. With the engine extinguished, the vehicle was no longer able to maintain controlled flight — but the rocket did not explode. It stayed within the predicted downrange corridors of our projections and our Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) launch license as the vehicle fell to the ocean, posing no risk to public safety, no danger our aircrew or aircraft, and no significant environmental impact.
There’s more on the website about what the company achieved despite the failure on Monday. There’s lots of data to go over before the next launch attempt.
Mojave, Calif., May 25, 2020 (Virgin Orbit PR) —Virgin Orbit, the California-based satellite launch company, conducted a launch demonstration of its innovative air-launched rocket today in the skies over the Pacific Ocean just off the California coast. The company successfully completed all of its pre-launch procedures, the captive carry flight out to the drop site, clean telemetry lock from multiple dishes, a smooth pass through the racetrack, terminal count, and a clean release. After being released from the carrier aircraft, the LauncherOne rocket successfully lighted its booster engine on cue — the first time the company had attempted an in-air ignition. An anomaly then occurred early in first stage flight, and the mission safely terminated. The carrier aircraft Cosmic Girl and all of its crew landed safely at Mojave Air and Space Port, concluding the mission.
“Our team performed their prelaunch and flight operations with incredible skill today. Test flights are instrumented to yield data and we now have a treasure trove of that. We accomplished many of the goals we set for ourselves, though not as many as we would have liked,” said Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart. “Nevertheless, we took a big step forward today. Our engineers are already poring through the data. Our next rocket is waiting. We will learn, adjust, and begin preparing for our next test, which is coming up soon.”
The company’s next rocket is in final stages of integration at its Long Beach manufacturing facility, with a half-dozen other rockets for subsequent missions not far behind. Virgin Orbit’s decision to begin production of multiple rockets well in advance of this test flight will enable the team to progress to the next attempt at a significantly faster pace, shortly after making any necessary modifications to the launch system.
Video Caption: Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl 747 takes off from Mojave Air and Space Port on May 25 with a fully fueled LauncherOne booster under its left wing. The launch over the Pacific Ocean near the Channel Islands failed. The aircraft and crew returned safely to Mojave.
MOJAVE, Calif. — Virgin Orbit’s first LauncherOne flight failed on Monday due to an anomaly in the booster’s first stage, marking a setback for Richard Branson’s effort to enter the booming small satellite launch industry.
LAKE FOREST, Calif. (Panasonic PR) — Panasonic Avionics Corporation (Panasonic) has been selected by Virgin Orbit to provide inflight connectivity for its airborne rocket launch platform.
Panasonic’s latest generation high-speed inflight connectivity system has been installed on Cosmic Girl, the modified Boeing 747-400 that serves as the carrier aircraft for Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne system. Virgin Orbit is currently undergoing final rehearsals for an orbital launch demonstration expected soon.
LONG BEACH, Calif. (Virgin Orbit PR) — We are extremely excited to announce that the window for our Launch Demo mission starts on Sunday, May 24th, and extends through Monday, May 25th, with an opportunity to launch from 10 A.M. – 2 P.M. Pacific (17:00 – 21:00 GMT) each day.
For nearly 16 years, Richard Branson’s obsession with space travel has been massive money pit for the billionaire’s Virgin Group. Branson’s conglomerate has poured more than $1 billion into Virgin Galactic, Virgin Orbit and The Spaceship Company without launching a single tourist or satellite into space while generating minuscule revenues and not a single penny of profit.
And yet, by the strange workings of modern finances, this money losing effort will be helping to prop up the Virgin Group, which has been laid low financially by the global COVID-19 pandemic.
EL SEGUNDO, Calif., May 7, 2020 (VOX Space PR) —VOX Space, the Virgin Orbit subsidiary which provides responsive and affordable launch services for the U.S. national security community, has signed a new agreement with the Department of the Air Force, allowing the company’s LauncherOne system to conduct missions to space from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam.
VOX Space President Mandy Vaughn and U.S. Air Force 36th Wing Commander Brig. Gen. Gentry Boswell, signed the Commercial Space Operations Support Agreement (COSOSA) Annex in early April, setting the stage for the STP-27VP mission, VOX Space’s first launch from Andersen Air Force Base.
Editor’s Note: The test was completed on Thursday at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. In an update sent out the same day, Virgin Orbit said there would be multiple dress rehearsals:
In the coming days, our focus will return to the ground as we roll up our sleeves and dive into wet dress rehearsals — this time, filling our tanks with our actual oxidizer (LOX) instead of LN2 [liquid nitrogen]. The first rehearsal will be a remote operation, where we’ll complete all pre-launch procedures short of having personnel approach the aircraft. Then, once we’re comfortable with the behavior of LOX in our system, we’ll get fully dressed, so to speak — conducting an end-to-end rehearsal that includes every operation from the beginning of the day to just before takeoff.
So we’re now staring right down the barrel at our Launch Demo.
LONG BEACH, Calif., April 22, 2020 (Virgin Orbit PR) —Virgin Orbit, Sir Richard Branson’s responsive satellite launch company, announced today that regulators at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have granted an Emergency Use Authorization for the immediate delivery and use of a new “bridge” ventilator designed and built by the aerospace firm. With that authorization now in place, Virgin Orbit expects to begin delivering ventilators to hospitals within the next few days.