An attempt to launch the first satellite into orbit from UK soil has ended in failure after suffering an “anomaly” during the flight.
Fishing boats and other vessels had been warned to avoid an area off the southwest coast of Ireland from Monday night because of the danger of being hit by falling debris from the launch.
After taking off from Cornwall, the Virgin Orbit plane flew to 35,000ft over the Atlantic Ocean where it jettisoned the rocket containing nine small satellites towards space.
Organisers of the Start Me Up mission said the rocket – with a variety of civil and defence applications – failed to orbit.
In a series of tweets, Virgin Orbit said: “We appear to have an anomaly that has prevented us from reaching orbit. We are evaluating the information.”
The plane returned to Spaceport Cornwall safely. The rocket was likely to burn up on re-entry to Earth but was projected to land over water.
The Irish Aviation Authority had issued a permit for the launch, and its counterpart in the United Kingdom had issued licences to the US-based company to conduct the operation.
However, speaking on RTÉ Radio on Monday, Patrick Murphy of the Irish South and West Fish Producers Association called on Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan to do more to protect the interests of the Irish fishing sector and queried why the rocket launch was not happening in UK airspace.
The launch aircraft, dubbed Cosmic Girl, took off on Monday night from Cornwall Airport with hundreds of members of the public watching and over 75,000 viewing a live stream of the event.
Named in tribute to the Rolling Stones’ 1981 hit, the mission involved a repurposed Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 aircraft and Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket.
To prepare Cosmic Girl for the launch the interior of the main deck was gutted of all seats and overhead bins to reduce the weight.
It was originally hoped the launch could take place before Christmas but owing to technical and regulatory issues it had to be pushed into 2023. – additional reporting: PA