A 70-foot (21-meter) rocket mounted to the underside of a modified Boeing 747 was being used by Virgin Orbit, a company owned by a group that includes the United Kingdom Space Agency and British airline entrepreneur Richard Branson, to launch nine tiny satellites into orbit.
At 22:02 GMT on Monday, the converted jumbo jet took off from the seaside town of Newquay in southwest England. An hour and 20 minutes later, the rocket detached from the plane and ignited over the Atlantic Ocean at a height of 10,670 meters (35,000 feet).
But Virgin Orbit later said there had been an “anomaly that has prevented us from reaching orbit”; it said it would provide more information when it could.
The UK space industry employs 47,000 people, but while the country is second only to the United States in the number of satellites it produces, they have long had to be sent into orbit via foreign spaceports operated by countries such as the US and Kazakhstan.
More than 2,000 space fans had gathered to cheer when the aircraft took off from the runway in Newquay.
Virgin Orbit said the jumbo jet returned safely to Newquay following the mission.