It was supposed to be a first in space travel. On Monday night, space agency Virgin Orbit launched a rocket called LauncherOne into the Atlantic Ocean. However, the rocket failed to enter orbit. The company itself informs. It’s still unclear exactly what went wrong; The Virgin Orbit team spoke of a ‘contradiction’.
The mission, named ‘Start Me Up’ after the Rolling Stones’ song, will be the first satellite to orbit Earth from Western Europe. Previously, space companies used a launch pad outside of Europe, for example Cape Canaveral in the United States, Bajkonor in Kazakhstan or Gouro in French Guiana.
At eleven o’clock Dutch time, Cosmic Girl, a Boeing 747, launched the rocket with a wing. It flew west from Newquay Airport in southwest England and released LauncherOne over the Atlantic Ocean shortly after midnight, igniting the rocket motors. It was clear from one quarter to one that the rocket would not go into orbit. Cosmic Girl is safely back. LauncherOne will place nine satellites into Earth orbit.
The launch should be ‘a historic moment’, according to Eric Lahn, an expert at space consultancy Eye on Orbit. According to him, the Virgin Orbit system has many advantages. ‘It allows you to fly where you want to sit and determine exactly where the satellite will land. Also, air resistance is less when the rocket is a few kilometers above the ground.’
Problems with exporting satellites are over
Thanks to a launch in Europe, companies have no problem exporting their satellites, which usually have to cross the border to a launch site. ‘It’s a very bureaucratic thing. You need to provide insight into how your satellite is performing, and sometimes you want to keep it secret, for example when launching a security satellite. Now bring the output to the client.’ Out of nine satellites Seven of them are from the United Kingdom.
Still, Lan doesn’t expect to see a rocket launch from the Netherlands. ‘I don’t see this Boeing 747 queuing up for all Transavia’s holiday flights at Schiphol. Plus, you don’t want to fly over residential areas. The flight from England comes directly over the Atlantic Ocean. If something goes wrong, the rocket will end up in the sea.’
Limited carrying capacity
The biggest disadvantage of such a launch is the low carrying capacity. This missile can only carry a payload of 500 kg. A bigger rocket is not an option, then the plane can’t lift it. By comparison, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket has a payload capacity of 22,800 kilograms.
From the United Kingdom, the launch is known to few. It is not yet known whether the launch from the Netherlands was observed. Clouds and light pollution could hamper visibility, Lan predicted. I live in Delft and visit Westland. I won’t see much by the greenhouse orange glow.’ That’s why interested parties also had one Live stream We made it available.
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