Virgin Orbit’s rocket makes (short) first flight

Virgin Orbit launch of LauncherOne
Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket fires its booster engine after its release from the Cosmic Girl carrier airplane. (Virgin Orbit Photo)

A new breed of launch vehicle had a shaky first outing today when Virgin Orbit released its LauncherOne rocket from a modified Boeing 747 jumbo jet flying over the Pacific Ocean for its first blastoff.

“We’ve confirmed a clean release from the aircraft,” Virgin Orbit reported in a tweet. “However, the mission terminated shortly into the flight.”

In a follow-up Twitter thread, Virgin Orbit said the rocket maintained its stability after release and fired up its first-stage engine. “An anomaly then occurred early in first-stage flight,” the company said.

The carrier airplane, known as Cosmic Girl, and its crew landed safely back at California’s Mojave Air and Space Port after the test. “We’ll learn more as our engineers analyze the mountain of data we collected today,” Virgin Orbit said.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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