Science | May 26, 2020 10:16 am

Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit Fails With First Rocket Launch Attempt

The rocket was supposed to be launched into space from a 747

A Virgin Orbit 747-400 aircraft named 'Cosmic Girl' on final approach to Long Beach (CA) Airport, home of Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Orbit company, July 31, 2017 in Long Beach, CA.(Photo by Bob Riha, Jr.,/Getty Images)
A Virgin Orbit 747-400 aircraft named 'Cosmic Girl' on final approach to Long Beach (CA) Airport, home of Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Orbit company, July 31, 2017 in Long Beach, CA.(Photo by Bob Riha, Jr.,/Getty Images)
Getty Images

The first attempt by Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit to send a rocket into space by launching it from a modified 747 was cut short after an undisclosed problem on Monday.

The jet, dubbed Cosmic Girl, took off from Mojave Air and Space Port and flew west over the Pacific Ocean and reached an altitude of approximately 35,000 feet before dropping the 70-foot-long LauncherOne rocket. ““We’ve confirmed a clean release from the aircraft. However, the mission terminated shortly into the flight. Cosmic Girl and our flight crew are safe and returning to base,” the company said in a statement.

Will Pomerantz, Virgin Orbit’s vice president for special projects, noted during a preflight briefing that about half of first-attempt rocket launches fail. “History is not terribly kind, necessarily, to maiden flights,” he said.

Though the mission was a failure, Virgin Orbit noted that it will be able to learn from its mistakes, thanks to new data it was able to collect from the attempt. “The team’s already hard at work digging into the data, and we’re eager to hop into our next big test ASAP,” the company tweeted. “Thankfully, instead of waiting until after our 1st flight to tackle our 2nd rocket, we’ve already completed a ton of work to get us back in the air and keep moving forward.”

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