Last week saw two important launches in the commercial space sector: SpaceX’s launch of its Dragon capsule to the International Space Station and Virgin Orbit’s maiden flight of its LauncherOne rocket. One didn’t quite as well as the other.
Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne is an air-launch to orbit system. The 70ft long, 57,000 lb (25,800kg) rocket is designed to travel at speeds of up to 20 times the speed of sound (17,000mph) and will carry small satellites, such as communications and weather satellites of up to 660 lb (300kg).
For its maiden launch on May 25 the rocket was flown to 35,000ft and released before its thrusters fired for the maiden flight. However a malfunction caused the rocket to shut down after nine seconds and LauncherOne dropped into the Pacific Ocean.
Despite the malfunction, Virigin Orbit highlighted the successes of the test flight, including the “masses of data” collected and the several parts of the launch that were successfully validated. Most have praised the company for its transparency. Only one other air launch system is currently operational in the world , Northrup Grumman’s Pegasus system.
The Virgin Orbit test flight can be watched in the video above, with commentary from the engineering team.