Virgin Orbit confirms cause of failed UK launch: dislodged fuel filter
Virgin Orbit has confirmed that the cause of the failure of its first UK mission on January 9 was a dislodged fuel filter. According to the company, the filter had been “dislodged from its normal position,” causing a series of events that ultimately led to the shutdown of the second-stage rocket. The investigation is being led by United Launch Alliance’s Jim Sponnick and Virgin Chief Engineer Chad Foerster, with oversight from the US FAA, UK Air Accidents Investigation branch, and other authorities.
Virgin’s historic “Start Me Up” mission launched from Spaceport Cornwall, and the company confirmed that everything was going according to plan at the start of the mission. However, after the fuel filter became dislodged, a downstream pump was starved for fuel and began operating at a much higher temperature than normal, causing other parts to malfunction and the engine to stop. The second stage and its payloads ultimately fell back to Earth, landing in the approved safety corridor in the Atlantic Ocean.
The failure is being portrayed as a learning experience for the company, and it noted that all four prior operational flights had succeeded in sending 33 payloads to their required orbits. Virgin Orbit is now working on a plan to replicate flight conditions to determine the root cause or causes of the failure. “Numerous tests are underway to support the investigation and help lead to definitive conclusions,” the company said. “Ultimately, all credible causes of the failure will be addressed prior to the next LauncherOne mission.”