Virgin Orbit suspects that a $100 part was responsible for the Jan. 9 failure of the LauncherOne rocket.
“Everything points to, right now, a filter that was clearly there when we assembled the rocket but was not there as the second stage engine started, meaning it was dislodged and caused mischief downstream,” CEO Dan Hart reportedly told the SmallSat Symposium on Tuesday, according to SpaceNews.com.
Hart said that if that is the cause of the issues, “this is like a $100 part that took us out.”
Investigations into the matter, conducted by both Virgin Orbit and the U.K. Space Agency, are ongoing.
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A general view of Cosmic Girl, a repurposed Boeing 747 aircraft carrying the LauncherOne rocket under its left wing, as final preparations are made at Cornwall Airport Newquay on Jan. 9, 2023, in Newquay, United Kingdom. ((Photo by Matthew Horwood/Getty Images))
In early January, the spaceflight company said that the Start Me Up mission was terminated after reaching space – but before achieving orbit – as a result of the premature shutdown of the first burn of the rocket’s second stage.
The “anomaly” ended the mission, with the rocket components and payload falling back to Earth within the approved safety corridor without ever achieving orbit.
NEWQUAY, ENGLAND – JANUARY 08: Dan Hart, CEO of Virgin Orbit, during a press conference at Cornwall Airport on January 08, 2023, in Newquay, England. ((Photo by Hugh Hastings/Getty Images))
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“Given our four previous successful missions, which have proven our technology, our team’s deep understanding of the LauncherOne system from massive amounts of previously collected flight data and the ample telemetry data that was collected characterizing the flight and the anomaly, I am confident that root cause and corrective actions will be determined in an efficient and timely manner,” Hart said in a Jan. 12 statement.
A repurposed Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 aircraft, named Cosmic Girl, carrying Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket, takes off from Spaceport Cornwall at Cornwall Airport, Newquay, on Jan. 9, 2023. ((Photo by Ben Birchall/PA Images via Getty Images))
The chief executive said Virgin Orbit would implement any modifications prior to its next launch.
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The Start Me Up mission was the first attempt to launch satellites into orbit from the U.K.