On Tuesday, an attempt to launch the first rocket into orbit from the UK failed, and scientists reported an “anomaly” as it got closer to its goal.
At 2202 GMT, the 70-foot (21-meter) rocket was launched from a spaceport in Cornwall, southwest England, by a Virgin Orbit Boeing 747.
At approximately 23:15 GMT, the rocket disengaged from the aircraft and ignited as planned at a height of 35,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean south of Ireland.
However, Virgin Orbit stated in a series of tweets just before the rocket was scheduled to enter orbit and discharge its nine satellites: An anomaly appears to have prevented us from reaching orbit. We are looking into the data.
“We’re removing our previous tweet about reaching orbit as we learn more. When we can, we’ll share more information.
The plane made its planned return to Cornwall Airport Newquay’s Spaceport Cornwall, a group that also includes Virgin Orbit and the UK Space Agency.
This was the first launch from the UK. In the past, UK-made satellites had to be launched into orbit via foreign spaceports.
The United Kingdom would have been one of only nine nations able to send spacecraft into Earth’s orbit if the mission had been successful.
Before the launch, Spaceport Cornwall chief Melissa Thorpe told BBC television, “Joining that really exclusive club of launch nations is so important because it gives us our own access to space… that we’ve never had before here in the UK.”
The launch, which was given the name “Start Me Up” after a Rolling Stones song, was seen by hundreds of people.
The satellites were to be used for a wide range of civil and military purposes, including space weather observation and sea monitoring to assist nations in identifying people smugglers.
The commercialization of space has led to an increase in the number of space bases in Europe over the past few years.
National space agencies used satellites primarily for institutional missions for a long time; however, most of Europe’s spaceport projects are now private-sector endeavors.
Small start-ups, modern technology that makes rockets and satellites smaller, and the rapidly expanding number of applications for satellites have all contributed to the market’s explosion.
Between 2022 and 2031, 18,500 small satellites weighing less than 1,100 pounds are expected to be launched, up from 4,600 in the previous decade.
However, campaigners criticized the launch.
According to Kate Hudson, general secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), “Space is the new frontier for military escalation and spending with no real public scrutiny or accountability.”
“Space arms race which will inevitably lead to greater risk of instability and conflict,” said Chris Cole, the director of Drone Wars.