Virgin Orbit analyzing data to find cause of rocket failure

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Matthew C Hartman

A Virgin Orbit Boeing 747-400 aircraft named Cosmic Girl takes off from Mojave Air and Space Port in the desert north of Los Angeles Monday, May 25, 2020. Richard Branson's Virgin Orbit failed Monday in its first test launch of a new rocket carried aloft by the Boeing 747 and released over the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Southern California. (AP Photo/Matt Hartman)

LOS ANGELES – Virgin Orbit engineers were analyzing data Tuesday to find out what caused the maiden flight of its air-launched satellite booster to fail.

The problem occurred soon after the LauncherOne rocket was released Monday from a Boeing 747 jetliner off the Southern California coast and its first stage motor ignited.

The launch was not terminated by the autonomous flight safety system, which would have been triggered if the rocket left its flight corridor, said Kendall Russell, Virgin Orbit’s spokesman.

“So the engineers are diving into the data now to determine the source of the anomaly,” he said in an email.

The payload for the demonstration flight was essentially a dummy satellite that was supposed to be placed in low Earth orbit.

Virgin Orbit, founded by billionaire Richard Branson, is among several new companies developing rockets specifically for launching small satellites.

While others are using conventional launch pads, the Long Beach, California-based company’s air launch system would allow it to operate around the world from airports capable of handling a 747, putting satellites into orbit when and where a customer chooses.

Virgin Orbit’s highly modified jumbo jet, dubbed Cosmic Girl, took off from Mojave Air and Space Port in the desert north of Los Angeles and headed out over the Pacific just beyond the Channel Islands where it flew an oval-shaped flight path known as “the racetrack.”