A SATELLITE created in Oxfordshire to help protect critical national infrastructure was on board the first ever rocket launched from UK soil which ended in failure.

The DOVER Pathfinder satellite, designed by Rheatech Ltd in Harwell, was on board the ‘Cosmic Girl’ plane which launched from Cornwall Airport yesterday evening (Monday, January 9).

The satellite was created to protect critical national infrastructure in the event of cyber hacking and jamming attacks. 

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However, the attempt to make British space history ended in failure after suffering an ‘anomaly’ during the flight.

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.

“As we find out more, we’re removing our previous tweet about reaching orbit. We’ll share more info when we can.”

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Early on Tuesday morning, Virgin Orbit issued a statement which said: “Out of five LauncherOne missions carrying payloads for private companies and governmental agencies, this is the first to fall short of delivering its payloads to their precise target orbit.”

“While we are very proud of the many things that we have successfully achieved as part of this mission, we are mindful that we failed to provide our customers with the launch service they deserve,” chief executive Dan Hart added.

“The first-time nature of this mission added layers of complexity that our team professionally managed through; however, in the end a technical failure appears to have prevented us from delivering the final orbit.”

While engineers tried to establish what went wrong, the plane returned to Spaceport Cornwall safely.

Hundreds of members of the public watched the launch with over 75,000 viewing a live stream of the event.

Commenting on the failure, Rheatech said: “RHEA Group, along with the UK space community, was disappointed to learn of the failure of the Virgin Orbit launch.

“Unfortunately LauncherOne failed after leaving the jet, before the satellites could be deployed into their respective orbits.”

Emma Jones, UK Business Director at RHEA, said: “RHEA is very disappointed in the failure of LauncherOne but we still see this mission as a success.

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“We have a very innovative mission design that will be recreated, and we know the UK space sector can work together to deliver against tight timescales and demonstrate the passion, drive and commitment of the UK space community.

“Although disappointing, it is just a stepping stone to the next success.”


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This story was written by Gee Harland. She joined the team in 2022 as a senior multimedia reporter.

Gee covers Abingdon, Didcot, Wallingford and Wantage.

Get in touch with her by emailing: gee.harland@newsquest.co.uk

Follow her on Twitter @geeharland