After a flight failure, Virgin Orbit: Branson’s rocket dream comes to an end


Sir Richard Branson’s dream of making commercial spaceflight a reality has come to an end after Virgin Orbit’s initial mission to launch a payload of satellites into orbit failed.

The company launched its LauncherOne rocket at 2:45 p.m. ET on Sunday in an attempt to prove its ability to place small satellites in Earth’s orbit. Unfortunately, despite a successful take-off from the Long Beach Airport in Long Beach, Calif., the mission failed due to an unspecified “anomaly” about nine minutes into the flight.

In a statement issued after the mission, the Virgin Orbit team noted they had “successfully ignited the first stage and were in the process of accelerating through Mach 1 when an anomaly occured, and the mission safely terminated.”

The failed mission has put a dent in Branson’s ambitions to add a new arm to his Virgin Group empire. Virgin Orbit has spent the last five years and more than $400 million building its rocket technology with the aim of offering more affordable launches of spacecraft for deploying miniature satellites.

The setback is a major blow for the company, although Branson and his team remain committed to making spaceflight a reality. “It is not the outcome that we wanted, but it is the outcome that we have,” CEO Dan Hart said in a statement. “We will learn from this, and soon be ready to fly again.”