The first UK rocket taking satellites into space - including one which was built in Harwell - has suffered an anomaly which brought the mission to an end.

At around 11.45pm yesterday (January 9) Virgin Orbit, the company responsible for the LauncherOne rocket that aimed to deliver nine satellites into space, tweeted: “We appear to have an anomaly that has prevented us from reaching orbit.”

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The aircraft, a modified Boeing 747-400 dubbed ‘Cosmic Girl’, which carried the rocket under its wing, took off from Spaceport Cornwall and travelled around 35,000ft over the Atlantic Ocean to release the rocket.  

Crowds had gathered at the spaceport to watch the take off and witness a moment in history, however a collective groan filled the air when they heard there had been a problem.

One of the satellites due to be delivered into space – a terror-tracking satellite built to track ships to combat terrorism, smuggling and piracy named AMBER – was created by a partnership between Satellite Applications Catapult, a company based in Didcot, and Horizon Technologies, based in London.

Speaking to the BBC after the failed attempt to get into orbit, Melissa Thorpe, head of UK Spaceport said: “We put so much into this, everybody has and we're like a big family. So it is absolutely gutting.

“Virgin will be deep diving into the data.”

She said she was pleased with how the spaceport operated and that it proves the potential of UK space industry.

“The airport was amazing, the operation side of it just went completely to plan.

“So we’re just here to support you know, get Virgin backup and get another rocket over here.

“We’re enabling access to space and, well, we did that today. That’s a huge win to show that we can do it here.”

UK space agency launch program director Matt Archer also told journalists in Newquay that he was disappointed but proud of what the mission achieved.

The satellites being carried included the Prometheus-2, a pair of satellites that carried hyper-spectral imagers; cameras that see the earth’s surface at a variety of wavelengths of light.

There was also the Dover, a satellite that will test a novel way to provide precise timing information from space, and the ForgeStar-0, the first ever Welsh satellite that will test key technologies for a potential collection of mini-factories that would make novel materials in space.    

Virgin Orbit’s stock plunged after the anomaly was announced, with shares falling by nearly a third – a loss of over £160 million.

Despite the failure, this launch was a historic moment as previously satellites produced in the UK have been sent to foreign facilities to make their way into space.

This was also the first time that satellites have been launched from Europe.  


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This story was written by Matthew Norman, he joined the team in 2022 as a Facebook community reporter.

Matthew covers Bicester and focuses on finding stories from diverse communities.

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