Virgin Orbit: Video shows rocket blazing through sky as it falls down to Earth

A video appears to show the blaze in the sky as Virgin Orbit’s rocket tumbled to Earth.

The rocket, named LauncherOne, was supposed to be the first rocket launched from the UK and carried the first satellites to be launched from Western Europe. But instead of completing that groundbreaking mission it experienced an “anomaly” that prevented it from reaching orbit.

Experts said that the rocket likely burned up as it fell back down to Earth. Anything that did survive that re-entry probably fell into the ocean.

The new video showed that process as it happens. Ramón López captured the images from the Canary Islands, and said that it appeared to show the second stage of the rocket falling back down to Earth.

The timing and location of the video indicate that the object probably is LauncherOne, a lecturer in astrodynamics at Delft Technical University told Gizmodo, which reported the video.

The video shows the rocket crashing to Earth, heating up and burning as it tumbles back down towards the ground, he said. The satellites that the rocket were crashing will have been attached to the rocket at that point and burnt up with it, he noted.

Engineers are still yet to announce what went wrong with the rocket, and what caused the “anomaly”. Virgin Orbit, the government and the UK Space Agency have said they are working to investigate the cause of the problem.

“We will work closely with Virgin Orbit as they investigate what caused the failure in the coming days and weeks. While a failed launch is disappointing, launching a spacecraft always carries significant risks,” said Grant Shapps, the business secretary.

“Despite this, the project has succeeded in creating a horizontal launch capability at Spaceport Cornwall and we remain committed to becoming the leading provider of commercial small satellite launch in Europe by 2030, with vertical launches planned from Scotland in the next year.”

The UK Space Agency’s Matt Archer has also said that the payload was insured, that Virgin Orbit and its customers would recover their losses, and that most of the rocket would have burnt up.

“The rocket will probably break up, not all of it will burn up, but certainly that’s what they will be tracking at the moment and making sure that it is coming down safely,” he said soon after the launch’s failure was announced.

“The trajectory that it was on shouldn’t be anywhere near land.”