The organisers of the Start Me Up mission say they are “gutted” after an attempt to make British history failed when the rocket failed to orbit.
After taking off from Cornwall, the Virgin Orbit plane flew to 35,000ft before it jettisoned the rocket.
Nine small satellites were contained inside the rocket and each had a variety of civil and defence applications.
Engineers tried to establish what had gone wrong as the plane returned to Spaceport Cornwall.
In a series of tweets, Virgin Orbit said: “We appear to have an anomaly that has prevented us from reaching orbit. We are evaluating the information.
“As we find out more, we’re removing our previous tweet about reaching orbit. We’ll share more info when we can.”
The team behind the Virgin Orbit say they are 'gutted' after the rocket failed to orbit Ben Birchall
Hundreds of members of the public watched last night as the plane took off, with a further 75,000 viewing the event via live stream.
The launch of the repurposed Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 aircraft and Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket was originally supposed to take place before Christmas but was rescheduled to 2023 following technical and regulatory issues.
To prepare for the launch of the plane, named Cosmic Girl in tribute to the Rolling Stones’ 1981 hit, the interior of the main deck was gutted of all seats and overhead bins to reduce the weight.
While the upper deck, the former premium and economy cabin, was converted into a small mission control room.
Melissa Thorpe, head of Spaceport Cornwall, said the team “were in tears” after the mission failure.
She said: “This isn’t the first time we’ve been knocked, this is the biggest definitely, but I feel okay and we’ll get up and we’ll go again.
“It hasn’t gone exactly to plan but we’ve done everything that we said we were going to do at Spaceport. We’re feeling awful, to be honest - I’m not going to lie.
“It’s gutting and we all heard at different times and when we got together there were tears, and it was very upsetting.
“We are family and we’ve been through a lot together. So, when you go through something like this as a family at least you have that support, and we all understand one another.
“There’s not much more I can say other than it’s gutting but everybody’s okay.”
The Virgin Orbit was due to launch before Christmas but was rescheduled until 2023 HENRY NICHOLLS
The cause of the “anomaly” is now under investigation, according to Matt Archer, from the UK Space Agency.
The rocket was likely to burn up on re-entry to earth but was projected to land over water.
Business Secretary Grant Shapps said his hopes that the UK’s will become a leading destination for the launch of small satellites remains.
Speaking to Sky News, he said: “Space is difficult. The great thing about this technology is that no one was harmed, the pilots came back in the aircraft.
“It didn’t work. No doubt they’ll pick themselves up, dust themselves off and they’ll go again.”