Where is the rocket now? What happened to the UK rocket launch - where did Virgin Orbit Cornwall rocket land?

Virgin Orbit’s rocket launch was not successful - but where is the rocket now?

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A history-making effort to launch a rocket into orbit from British soil has failed due to an "anomaly" that occurred during the mission.

A Virgin Orbit aircraft took off from Cornwall and climbed to a height of 35,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean before launching a rocket carrying nine small satellites into space.

But Start Me Up mission organisers reported that the rocket, which had both civil and military purposes, was unable to enter orbit.

So where is the rocket now? Did it fall back to Earth, and if so, where did it land? Here is everything you need to know about it.

What happened?

Hundreds of onlookers watched as a plane, dubbed Cosmic Girl, took off from Cornwall Airport on Monday (9 January) night, while more than 75,000 people watched the event live online. The repurposed Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 was carrying Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket under a wing as it took off horizontally.

Once the Boeing 747 reached the drop site at a height of 35,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean south of Ireland, it was flown in a circling "racetrack" pattern ahead of the rocket launch.

(Photos: Getty Images)(Photos: Getty Images)
(Photos: Getty Images)

The rocket was launched, and technically did make it into space, but failed to reach the required altitude to maintain its orbit or deploy the satellites. Matt Archer, from the UK Space Agency, said the second stage of the launch suffered an “anomaly”, which the cause of was under investigation.

“Over the coming days, there’ll be an investigation involving the Government and various bodies, including Virgin Orbit, to make sure we understand what caused that technical failure and again we’ll work out what to do next following that,” he said.

According to Archer, the rocket would have reached a basic orbit with the first stage burn, but a second stage was required to lift it 500 km (311 miles) above the planet. “That didn’t happen tonight and what you have seen is that it has reached space but hasn’t reached the required orbit,” he added.

Where is the rocket now?

The rocket is likely to have burned up upon re-entering the atmosphere, though if it did survive re-entry, it is thought it would have landed over water.

“The trajectory puts it over main bodies of water, so it’s completely safe in that regard,” Archer told reporters. The Virgin Orbit Boeing 747 safely landed back at Cornwall Airport after its journey.

Will there be another launch?

Grant Shapps said “space is difficult” after the failure of the first UK rocket launch. The Business Secretary told Sky News: “Everyone’s used to seeing rockets which explode from Japan, what have you. The great thing about this technology is that no-one was harmed. The pilots came back in the aircraft.

“It didn’t work. I’ve no doubt that they’ll pick themselves up, dust themselves off and they’ll go again once they find out what exactly went wrong with it.”

Shapps did not know the time schedule for another possible attempt, but said that vertical launches were planned from Scotland “in the next year”.