After the failure of Virgin Orbit’s “Start Me Up” satellite launch in January, space officials admit that Britain is unlikely to host an orbital rocket mission this season.
According to two sources, staff at Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), have told space industry members that it is unlikely there will be another mission in 2023.
Virgin Orbit previously stated that it intended to return to Cornwall to conduct a mission by the end of this year.
It is highly unlikely that this ambition will be realized due to ongoing investigations into the failed launch at the beginning of the year, and a financial crisis at company.
Other launch operators are still working to secure UK licences. This can take over a year and is not expected to be complete before 2024.
Virgin Orbit’s January launch was originally scheduled for the summer 2022. However, crashed after its rocket’s fuel filter became disconnected . This caused one of its engines to become disabled and it to crash back to Earth.
The rocket’s payload of nine satellites was lost in its total breakup, prompting an investigation by the Federal Aviation Authority (USA) and UK authorities.
These inquiries are ongoing and could take many more weeks. Officials anticipate Virgin Orbit will launch its next mission from the US. It typically takes six months to prepare for a launch, and even if it chooses the UK, its licenses would need to be renewed.
The prospects of a UK mission in this year’s UK have been further hampered by Virgin Orbit’s financial crisis. It has placed most of its employees on unpaid leave while it tries to raise cash or sell itself.
Colin Macleod is the head of space regulation at CAA. He stated: “It’s not up to the UK Civil Aviation Authority (UKCAA) to determine any company’s launch plan. It is determined by launch, range and spaceport operators, and their technical and operational readiness for all vertical and horizontal activities.
Virgin Orbit was launched by Sir Richard Branson, a billionaire, by flying a Boeing 747 up to high altitude before dropping an rocket from its underwing, which then launches into space.
Six missions have been conducted by the company, five from the US and one in Cornwall. Two of those missions, including one from the UK, were unsuccessful.
Sir Richard attempted a UK launch. It was supposed to be a British first. This meant that commercial satellites were launched into space from UK soil.
Virgin Orbit has spent close to $1bn in order to fulfill Sir Richard’s dreams of a rocket company. However, its share price plunged more than 90% since 2021 when it went public.
The company stated in a stock exchange notice that it was “discussing with potential funding sources” as well as exploring “strategic possibilities”.
Separately, Virgin Orbit claimed that Virgin Orbit’s mission may have been a “near miss” event after its rocket crashed into the Canary Islands.
Newton Launch Systems submitted to the Science Committee that a small change in trajectory could easily have had a direct effect.
People on Lanzarote captured Virgin Orbit’s rocket burning up.
Space mission was designed to avoid potential “splashdown zones” with shipping traffic alerted. However, the mission failed and the rocket debris fell in the expected location.