The first results of an investigation into the failure of the Virgin Orbit launch from a British spaceport in January point to problems with the fuel system.
An attempt to send a satellite into orbit from a rocket piggybacked on a Boeing 747 failed when the vehicle crashed after taking off from Cornwall on April 9.
The team investigating the flaw examined telemetry data collected during the mission from ground stations in the UK, Ireland and Spain, as well as from systems onboard the carrier aircraft.
In a statement Tuesday night from Long Beach, Calif., Virgin Orbit said the team successfully completed flight preparations, launch of the carrier aircraft, captive carry flight and missile release.
The LauncherOne rocket’s ignition, first stage flight, stage separation, second stage ignition and fairing deployment all worked, she added.
“Each of these milestones was a unique achievement for any orbital launch attempt from Western Europe,” the company said.
But it added that important observations at this point in the investigation revealed that a fuel filter in the fuel feed line had been displaced from its normal position from the start of the second stage’s first combustion.
Additional data showed that the fuel pump downstream of the filter was operating at reduced efficiency, causing the Newton 4 engine to lack fuel. This resulted in the engine running at a significantly higher temperature than it was designed for.