Even after a dismaying first attempt in May, Virgin Orbit is still dreaming about reaching the sky and beyond. Its Cosmic Girl mothership and LauncherOne rocket are being primed with much more data analysis and an additional 10 CubeSats (mini-satellites for the uninitiated) for another try at reaching outer space.
This time keep your eyes open for the Launch Demo 2 Mission set for December 19, according to NASA's official announcement. For months now, following the adage of "practice makes perfect," Virgin Orbit has been trying to use a modified 747 to take on intimidating and oft-risky orbital flights. And this time it might just work.
What happened the first time? — Virgin Orbit's previous failure was investigated over the summer this year. Ultimately the findings led the assessing team to believe that the propellant line caused the LauncherOne's engine to fail — and break Virgin Orbit's heart. It wasn't a complete failure since the flight did take off; it was just cut awfully short.
The faulty propellant line caused the engine to have a premature shutdown, according to the company's CEO Dan Hart. In a statement with the Space Generation Advisory Council, Hart said at the time, "The moments after dropping the rocket — in that data — we verified our entire aerodynamic database as we dropped the rocket off the airplane. We verified our control algorithms as our fins worked really hard to control the rocket through the turbulent flow around the airplane, and into the steady state flow as the rocket dropped through the air for about four or five seconds."
The CEO went on to add, "The rocket detected that it was time to start the engine, and it went through its pressurization and startup routine, started the engine and lifted up its nose, and pulled up pitch and traveled along our trajectory to target the orbit. So we were pretty stoked at that point that we had, at that moment, proven all of the new aspects of air launch." The CEO said that the team then noticed there was a "high pressure feed line" and that led the liquid oxygen to deplete, affecting the power of the engine. All of this, of course, killed the Virgin Orbit flight.
The silver lining to come out of this disappointment was Hart and company's enthusiasm to try again, even if it meant facing failure once more. Hopefully, this time Virgin Orbit is successful in completing a trip to outer space.