Virgin Orbit Consulted with Aerospace Corp to Determine Cause of Memorial Day Failure

Edited by DONNA BALANCIA

Virgin Orbit has determined what caused the failure of its first rocket launch and the Long Beach company is working toward a second flight that will deliver small satellites for NASA, the company announced.

A date for the second launch has not been set.

The SoCal aerospace company founded by Richard Branson suffered a premature shutdown of its main rocket engine on Memorial Day after the launch vehicle was released from under the wing of a Boeing 747 off the SoCal coast.

The investigation determined there was a breach in a high-pressure line carrying cryogenic liquid oxygen to the first-stage combustion chamber, the company said. The engine then stopped providing thrust, ending the demonstration.

“Now, we’re putting the finishing touches on that investigation; and while we aren’t quite done, the major findings and the corrective actions are clear — and we’re well under way with fabricating new parts and putting those actions into play,” the company said.

Virgin Orbit had planned to use its next rocket for a second demonstration flight but NASA determined the company should proceed with launch of 11 small satellites for the space agency’s CubeSat Launch Initiative.

“We knew the odds of getting to orbit on our first attempt were slim well before our wheels started to roll down the tarmac, and so we were ready for any outcome,” the company said in a release. “We had our plans ready and an investigation team identified before the countdown began. So as soon as the flight concluded, we were able to get started.

“To ensure we left no stone unturned in our quest for answers, we added strong independent voices to the team, calling upon industry legends Jim Sponnick and Mark Wilkins as well as the world-class team at the Aerospace Corporation to give us their straight-up advice and opinions along the way.

“Soon, we were able to identify the cause of the failure that ended our first Launch Demo: a breach in the high-pressure line carrying cryogenic Liquid Oxygen (LOX) to our first stage combustion chamber due to a component failure. Without a supply of oxidizer, that engine soon stopped providing thrust, ending our powered flight and ultimately the test itself.”

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