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Dislodged fuel filter identified as cause of Virgin Orbit launch failure

Virgin Orbit yesterday revealed that a dislodged fuel filter in LauncherOne’s upper stage caused the failure of the rocket to reach orbit during its January 9, 2023 launch from Cornwall, UK.

The data is indicating that from the beginning of the second stage first burn, a fuel filter within the fuel feedline had been dislodged from its normal position. Additional data shows that the fuel pump that is downstream of the filter operated at a degraded efficiency level, resulting in the Newton 4 engine being starved for fuel. Performing in this anomalous manner resulted in the engine operating at a significantly higher than rated engine temperature.

Components downstream and in the vicinity of the abnormally hot engine eventually malfunctioned, causing the second stage thrust to terminate prematurely.

The rocket thus did not have enough velocity to reach orbit, and fell in the ocean.

No word yet on when the company will next launch, though it has said that launch will be from Mojave, California.

Conscious Choice cover

Now available in hardback and paperback as well as ebook!


From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.


“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.


All editions are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all book vendors, with the ebook priced at $5.99 before discount. All editions can also be purchased direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit, in which case you don't support the big tech companies and the author gets a bigger cut much sooner.


Autographed printed copies are also available at discount directly from me (hardback $24.95; paperback $14.95; Shipping cost for either: $5.00). Just email me at zimmerman @ nasw dot org.


  • pzatchok

    You know what?

    As long as the RP-1 tank on the rocket is clean and the fuel is clean then they do not need a fuel filter at all.

    Its all expendable so they are not protecting it for the next flight.

    They could literally place a bypass in place of the filter and before the rocket is launched they can use an external filter to wash out and filter all of the fuel on the rocket during fueling.

    They should be filtering the fuel on each transfer from one tank to the next.

  • Edward

    pzatchok wrote: “As long as the RP-1 tank on the rocket is clean and the fuel is clean then they do not need a fuel filter at all.

    Somebody on the design team thought it was important, otherwise they would not have accepted the weight penalty. On the second stage, pretty much every ounce of weight is an ounce reduced from the payload capacity. This is why fairings are separated as early as is safe, saving weight and allowing for more payload to orbit.

    SpaceX accepts quite a weight penalty in taking Starship’s nosecone all the way to orbit, but they believe that the overall cost savings is worth the penalty. SpaceX’s goal is low cost, not maximum payload.

    Could it be that the somebody on LauncherOne’s design team was being overly cautious? Perhaps, but what would we be saying if the problem had been contamination in the fuel line and that there were no filter to prevent the contamination from reaching the pump or the engine?

  • M Puckett

    It’s to capture missed FOD most likely.

  • Frank

    Mojave, CA not Mohave.
    You show your AZ roots.

  • Frank. Oy. Fixed. Thank you. My roots however are really Flatbush, Brooklyn, not Arizona. :)

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