The initial findings of an investigation into the failure of the Virgin Orbit launch from a UK spaceport in January are pointing to issues with the fuel system.
The attempt to send a satellite into orbit from a rocket piggybacking on a Boeing 747 failed when the craft suffered an “anomaly” while travelling at 11,000 miles per hour after its take-off from Cornwall on January 9.
The team investigating the failure has been studying telemetry data collected during the mission by the ground stations in the UK, Ireland and Spain, as well as systems on board the carrier aircraft.
In a statement from Long Beach, California, on Tuesday night, Virgin Orbit said the team had successfully executed pre-flight preparations, carrier aircraft take-off, captive carry flight and rocket release.
The ignition, first-stage flight, stage separation, second-stage ignition and fairing deployment of the LauncherOne rocket had all worked, it added.
“Each of these milestones constituted a first-of-its-kind achievement for any orbital launch attempt from western Europe,” the company said.
But it went on to add that key observations at this point in the investigation had found that from the beginning of the second-stage first burn a fuel filter within the fuel feedline had been dislodged from its normal position.
Additional data showed that the fuel pump downstream of the filter was operating at a degraded efficiency level, resulting in the Newton 4 engine being starved of fuel. That led to the engine operating at a significantly higher temperature than it was rated for.