A UK satellite launch over the southwest coast of Ireland has ended in failure.
On Monday evening a Virgin Boeing 747 took off from Cornwall in the southwest of England. After reaching a height of 35,000 feet over the southern Irish coast it released a rocket carrying nine small satellites. However, the launch failed as a result of suffering an “anomaly."
The failure is a major setback for the British space industry and was being heralded as the first satellite launch from Europe.
The launch agency’s program director, Matt Archer, could not confirm whether the rocket had fallen back to earth, but said it would have come down over unpopulated areas, if it had come down.
On Monday, fishing boats and other vessels were warned to avoid a large area off the Cork and Kerry coast as there was a danger of falling debris.
After the launch on Monday evening, Virgin Orbit tweeted: “We appear to have an anomaly that has prevented us from reaching orbit. We are evaluating the information.”
The launch plane returned safely to Cornwall.
However, there was anger among Irish fishermen ahead of the 10 p.m. launch attempt.
Patrick Murphy of the Irish South and West Fish Producers Association queried why the launch was not happening in UK airspace.
“We want to know why this was allowed?” he said. “How are fishermen supposed to make a living when exiting this area could take half a day to steam out of it. That is a major cost for fishermen.
“Fishermen should be properly consulted about these things and we have major issues with the communications involved here.”
The warning prior to the launch from the Department of Transport in Dublin read: "Virgin Orbit LLC will be conducting a satellite launch attempt originating from the UK’s Spaceport Cornwall. The rocket launch vehicle will be deployed by air over water near the Southern Coast of Ireland.
"Where the launch attempt proceeds as planned, no debris will enter the marine hazard area set out in the co-ordinates below and the map at Appendix 1. However, there is a low probability for the vehicle to produce dangerous debris if a mishap were to occur.”