Virgin Not-Quite-Orbit-Yet

A country’s first orbital satellite launch from home soil is a proud moment, even when as is the case with Virgin Orbit, it’s not from the soil itself but from a Boeing 747 in the stratosphere over the sea. The first launch of the under-wing rocket took place yesterday evening, and pretty much every British space enthusiast gathered round the stream to watch history being made somewhere over the Atlantic south of Ireland. Sadly for all of us, though the launch itself went well and the rocket reached space, it suffered an anomaly in its second stage and failed to reach orbit.

No doubt we will hear more over the coming days as we’re sure they have a ton of telemetry data to work through before they find a definitive answer as to what happened. Meanwhile it’s worth remembering that the first launch of a new platform is a test of a hugely complex set of systems, and this one is certainly not the first to experience problems. It’s the under-wing launch that’s the interesting bit here, and in that we’re glad to see that part of the mission as a success. We know there will be a secomd launch and then many more, as not just the UK’s but Europe’s first launch platform from native soil becomes a viable and hopefully lower-cost launch option than its competitors.

People with very long memories will remember that this wasn’t the first time a British satellite launch attempt failed at the second stage and then went on to launch successfully, but Black Arrow launched Prospero back in 1971 from the Australian outback rather than the chilly North Atlantic.

Header: Österreichisches Weltraum Forum, CC BY-SA 4.0.

27 thoughts on “Virgin Not-Quite-Orbit-Yet

  1. This isn’t exactly the “first launch of a new platform”. Orbital Sciences did it way back in 1990, and Northrop still runs the Pegasus program.

    Branson implying they invented this is just as annoying as Dyson claiming they invented vortex particle separation and air flow multipliers (the former being used in carpentry shops for over a century, and the later having been manufactured by Vortec Corp since the ’60s).

    1. I don’t think Dyson ever made that claim. He always said he got the idea from a large votex in an industrial building close to his home and miniaturised it into a vacuum cleaner similarly, I don’t think Branson ever has claimed to have “invented” under wing. Perhaps you are listening to the popular press reports of these ‘implemenors’ ?

    2. I don’t believe he’s ever implied they invented it, certainly not that I’ve seen, just that they’re developing a new capability – that can be new for a company, new for a country etc, it doesn’t mean it’s never been done before.

  2. Just BTW:
    – Virgin Orbit is purely US company, not UK company!
    – the plane was modified in US, not UK!
    – the rocket is manufactured in US, not UK!
    – from the get-go the whole launch system is designed to be rapidly and easily transportable along with any and all require infrastructure.
    – They have 4 successful ORBITAL launches under belt and now 3 failures, which is not great but not terrible for a “new” company. (Problem is that they took long and may not have a sound business case anymore.)

    Overall there is NO achievement whatsoever in launching from UK soil (btw. they were much closer to Ireland at deploy) other than overcoming UK’s bimbocracy and US’s ITAR (which in all honesty just might be the hardest thing they have done ever).

    1. Virgin Orbit has even touted the ability of the system to launch from practically anywhere, rapidly and cheaply.

      So this upgrades the UK to the status of being “practically anywhere”…. Congratulations?

    2. The machinations of international companies is pointless to brag about, all of the Virgin group is owned by a UK parent company, a UK sibling company transferred the asset the US arm for registering a modification. I suspect the team that did the design work was vastly multi-national as is normal, and like with most things – patriotism (this form) is stupid because it doesn’t represent reality. None of that really makes any difference. However your points are valid and missing from a lot of the discussion in the UK – this was just a flown-in event, but there are plenty of other launch sites and vertical launch developments going on in the UK for small scale launches and this just added to that ongoing development. However the achievement, as mentioned, seems to be moving the red tape a little to allow easier access from a country that has not had any sort of native launch option and despite having a thriving space industry, is not seen as such by their public – the publicity stunt helps to elevate that good work and acts as an attractor for talent.

  3. Branson is not a person to be taken seriously and his “space” adventures so far have just been a very good way of wasting a huge amount of money, and getting people killed. Don’t help spread his marketing driven exaggerations and deceptive claims, he really needs to be ignored until he actually does something positive, of note, and that is genuinely original.

  4. @Grawp Virgin orbit is part of the virgin group which is British (HQ London) and is one of Richard Branson’s babies, and that guy is undoubtedly British.
    But yeah, the whole game is probably to get to launch US military crap and aid US general unpleasantness to make money.

    Oh and (to the author) I think the both the Brits and the Europeans get slightly offended if you call the Brits European these days. Not that you should care or cater to it of course.

  5. @Slugsie Why? Because both feel they are better than the other I would say.
    Brits have always said ‘over in Europe’ meaning mainland Europe btw, it’s not new really, they feel they are a separate ’empire’ still really. And in a way they are right, they are pretty independent; and were even while in the EU, and were accepted as such by the EU who gave them all kinds of exceptions to the rules.

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