back to article Gone in 9 seconds: Virgin Orbit's maiden rocket flight went perfectly until it didn't

Wannabe satellite flinger Virgin Orbit has shared more detail on what went wrong and right in the very brief maiden flight of LauncherOne. LauncherOne is an intriguing beast, consisting of a rocket slung beneath the wing of one of Virgin Orbit boss Richard Branson's old Boeing 747s. Dropped from around 35,000 feet, the two- …

  1. Youngone

    Oh. Again?

    I can't understand what game they're playing here. It has taken them 16 years to get to the point of not being able to get 500 kg into orbit.

    Why bother? Every man and his dog can do that.

    Is this some elaborate tax dodge for Branson or something?

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Oh. Again?

      As per the article, only solid fuel rockets launched this way so far. The other benefit is being able to launch from pretty much anywhere, anytime and likely above any inclement weather, to suit the requirements of the customer and not bother with all that pesky and expensive ground-based infrastructure.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Oh. Again?

        > The other benefit is being able to launch from pretty much anywhere, anytime and likely above any inclement weather, to suit the requirements of the customer

        Another benefit is that your satellite doesn't ever have to go onto US soil so won't be taken apart and every little detail copied, with or without your consent.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Oh. Again?

          Aw, bless! At least 4 people are innocent enough to believe that the US government wouldn't stoop to industrial espionage.

      2. Warm Braw Silver badge

        Re: Oh. Again?

        being able to launch from pretty much anywhere, anytime and likely above any inclement weather

        Shame the same can't be said for the Virgin Balloon Experience.

    2. Robert Sneddon

      Re: Oh. Again?

      Why bother? Every man and his dog can do that.

      Putting 500kg into orbit for, I think, $12 million is the trick. SpaceX charges about $90 million a launch for about 10 tonnes into LEO. Ride-shares are possible but the resulting orbits for multi-satellite launches are limited to wherever SpaceX wants to go today. If it's not the orbit that's wanted or close enough for a limited amount of adjustment after LEO is achieved then tough.

      1. David Given
        Headmaster

        Re: Oh. Again?

        They can also take off from potentially any airport, and the plane can carry the rocket a considerable distance before actually launching, so you can launch into any conceivable orbit rather than being limited to which orbits are reachable from SpaceX's launch sites. This allows, say, a UK-based company who wants to launch into a polar orbit to get Virgin to take off from Heathrow, carry the vehicle out over the Atlantic, and go straight north. They're hugely flexible.

        1. bazza Silver badge

          Re: Oh. Again?

          The flexibility and responsiveness are indeed certainly the big plus points.

          Potentially any airport, yes. In practice though you have to ask nicely before anyone will let you fuel up the rocket on their airside tarmac and take off from their runway carrying what, with only a tiny amount of squinting, looks very much like a very large bomb slung under the wing.

          People don’t like even the remotest chance of that kind of thing being dropped on top of them!

          1. Marketing Hack Silver badge

            Re: Oh. Again?

            I doubt you will ever see one of these rockets being prepped on the tarmac at Heathrow or any other major passenger airport. Liquid rocket fuel is often pretty nasty stuff, so you would have all kinds of environmental concerns. Plus most all of your major international airports are near or even have takeoff corridors happening over heavily populated neighborhoods.

            Nobody wants to be the major airport that has something happen and the rocket ends up piling into some residential subdivision.

            There are a number of less-constricted fields with long runways, including a number of recently retired military airbases. If I recall correctly, Virgin Orbit has an arrangement to fly out of Anderson AFB in Guam. Anderson has runways used for B-52 strikes during the Vietnam War. Plus Virgin Orbit needs to be pretty near the ocean, since they don't want to launch over land, especially somewhat populated land. So even Heathrow would probably be too far from the Atlantic (a couple hundred miles) to really work for Virgin.

            1. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
              Holmes

              Re: Oh. Again?

              Which is exactly why they're looking at Newquay in Cornwall.

              Sticking 500kg on a train to Cornwall vs the risks associated with launching near London; the train will win. Airport fees will likely be considerably cheaper too, and easier to schedule.

              1. fedoraman
                Stop

                Re: Oh. Again?

                Yeah - but the "replacement bus" part of the journey might prove a tad awkward

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: Oh. Again?

                  As will the railway being in the sea at Dawlish again

                  1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

                    Re: Oh. Again?

                    Or "leaves on the line", "the wrong kind of snow" etc etc etc :-)

              2. batfink Silver badge

                Re: Oh. Again?

                Knowing the cost of rail journeys in the UK, wouldn't that at least double the launch costs?

              3. LucreLout Silver badge

                Re: Oh. Again?

                Sticking 500kg on a train to Cornwall vs the risks associated with launching near London; the train will win. Airport fees will likely be considerably cheaper too, and easier to schedule.

                I'm not so sure - launch delayed due to bad weather yes, it happens, but launch delayed due to bad attitude of Cash's Cronies, well, that's not really going to do it, is it?

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Oh. Again?

              Ah, but where it comes down is not my concern, says Werner Von Branson.

            3. Rob Daglish

              Re: Oh. Again?

              > Plus most all of your major international airports are near or even have takeoff corridors happening over > heavily populated neighborhoods

              I'm sure Ryanair could help out with that...

            4. rg287 Silver badge

              Re: Oh. Again?

              Liquid rocket fuel is often pretty nasty stuff

              LauncherOne uses LOX/RP-1, so just highly-refined Kerosene. A spill has environmental impacts but there's no nasty hypergolics (though the payload of course might have hydrazine maneuvering thrusters if they're not simple cold-gas, but the main propulsion by weight and volume is just RP-1).

              Still, the sort of thing you'd do at a quiet location like Newquay without the hassle of integrating with nonstop freight and passenger traffic at somewhere like Heathrow or Gatwick.

          2. LucreLout Silver badge

            Re: Oh. Again?

            People don’t like even the remotest chance of that kind of thing being dropped on top of them!

            People won't always have a say. I mean, if you chose to move next to an airport then you reasonably chose to have larger louder loads arriving and leaving with ever greater frequency, because, well, that's what airports have always done, and the airport was there first.

            If we're going to make progress as a nation then the NIMBYs will have to STFU - they're holding back progress far too often and for the most trivial of reasons.

        2. Mike Richards

          Re: Oh. Again?

          Virgin plan to lob stuff into orbit using planes out of Newquay - provided Cornish ratepayers keep sending money to Necker Island.

        3. LucreLout Silver badge

          Re: Oh. Again?

          They can also take off from potentially any airport, and the plane can carry the rocket a considerable distance before actually launching, so you can launch into any conceivable orbit rather than being limited to which orbits are reachable from SpaceX's launch sites.

          Depending on the whims of the safety elves of whichever nation you take off from, you could probably sell tickets on the plane, if there's still room for seats. Get paid for the launch, the flight, and the peanuts.

          I know at least 6 people who'd pay several hundred bucks to be part of a satellite launch, even if their part if "sit still and watch out the window".

    3. cornetman Silver badge

      Re: Oh. Again?

      I guess the point is that if they could get it working, it would be super cheap to get lighter payloads into orbit and a much faster turnaround time. I would think a lot of companies would be interested in that.

      Yes, we have done orbital launch for decades but only for people with government-scale budgets.

    4. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: Oh. Again?

      One thing the article didn't mention is that Pegasus XL is expensive as hell. They have several left, but nobody can afford them.

      If VO can get this done for a decent price, then they will have a lot of business. The demand is there.

    5. Pascal Monett Silver badge
      FAIL

      Re: Every man and his dog can do that

      Really ?

      Because, last time I checked, there are less than five groups that can do that. Ariane is one, Apparently China and India are on good footing, and then there's SpaceX that is favorably viewed to supply the ISS, and Boeing that is going to get its shit together.

      Sorry, but every man and his dog is not sending stuff into space. It's not called rocket science for nothing.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Every man and his dog can do that

        Don't forget the NZ Electron launches and Bezos is only a short while away now.

    6. Stevie Silver badge

      Re: Oh. Again?

      *shrugs*

      Turns out Space is hard, not at all the doddle it is on the TV.

      Every man and his dog can do that

      Off you go then. Don't forget the GoPro footage. "Pictures or doesn't happen" and all that.

  2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
    Unhappy

    SpaceX launch just scrubbed too, weather related

    See subject.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ✈︎

    Notice it did not so much fly, as plummet.

    1. ClockworkOwl
      Thumb Down

      Re: ✈︎

      Hovered, in much the same way bricks don't

    2. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: ✈︎

      You have got it wrong!

      Not plummet; it was negative flight.

    3. HildyJ Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: ✈︎

      Ewe got it.

      Branson keeps at it "Because of the enormous commercial possibilities should he succeed."

      Clever sheep, him.

    4. Sloppy Crapmonster

      Re: ✈︎

      Threw themselves at the ground and didn't miss.

  4. macjules Silver badge

    TITSUP?

    Total Inability To Send UPwards?

    1. Hull

      Re: TITSUP?

      Technical Idol Totalled, Stache Under Pressure!

      1. teknopaul Silver badge

        Re: TITSUP?

        I cant believe I got this far down the comments without "Branson needs Cosmic G1rl to get it up but cant keep it up", phnar phnarrr.

        Tits insufficient to sustain useles pr1ck.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nerdy but interesting...

    For those wondering why a Boeing 747 is used and not another plane...

    The Boeing 747 was designed from the word go, to be able to carry and deliver a spare engine to other Boeing 747s elsewhere in the World. Boeing thought ahead and built an extra engine mount into the left wing structure between the other engines and this is what Virgin orbit is using to carry the rocket, and why this plane is used.

    1. IneptAdept
      Pint

      Re: Nerdy but interesting...

      That's really interesting and explains alot about their build / production system that I was wondering about

      Cheers

    2. quartzie

      Re: Nerdy but interesting...

      Also why the venerable 747 was cheerfully used to flight-test many other jet engines.

      Note that while GE's huge GE9X engine for was mounted on the regular wing, while Rolls-Royce borged an alien winglet onto the hump of a Qantas Jumbo.

    3. Stevie Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Nerdy but interesting...

      Very cool! Learn summat every day.

      E-beer for you, whoever you are.

  6. TeeCee Gold badge
    Meh

    ...planned its first operational mission in a matter of months.

    God forbid that anyone would actually plan for time to fix stuff found in testing and retest, that would just be silly.

    I sometimes wonder what Project Managers think testing is for, apart from being that inconvenient obstruction to hitting their deadlines of course.

    1. Kevin Johnston Silver badge

      I see you haven't thought that through properly. The testing phase is built into the plan to get it through the Exec approval steps and used as the removable cushion to meet the original 'launch to market' date

    2. rskurat

      new 'paradigm' god I hate that word

      These are "agile" launches, and they just "pivoted"

  7. Arthur the cat Silver badge
    Trollface

    "everything went to plan, up until it didn't"

    It's surprising how often that phrase or variants on a theme are applicable. "The operation went to plan until the patient died." "My attempt to give up drinking went to plan until I had a beer."

  8. RobThBay
    Facepalm

    9 seconds

    Hmm.... were they using a single digit counter??

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