Virgin Orbit has tried unsuccessfully to launch a rocket over the Pacific Ocean.
A booster was released from under the wing of a Boeing 747 specially converted for the task, but exploded shortly afterwards.
The company – which is part owned by entrepreneur Richard Branson – is seeking to capture a share of the emerging market for the launch of small satellites.
Virgin Orbit did not specify what went wrong, but the firm had warned beforehand that the chances of success might be only 50 per cent.
“Our team performed their prelaunch and flight operations with incredible skill today.
“Test flights are instrumented to yield data and we now have a treasure trove of that.
“We accomplished many of the goals we set for ourselves, though not as many as we would have liked,” said Virgin Orbit chief executive, Dan Hart.
“Nevertheless, we took a big step forward today.
“Our engineers are already poring through the data.
“Our next rocket is waiting.
“We will learn, adjust, and begin preparing for our next test, which is coming up soon.”
Looking on the bright side, the California-based satellite launch company added it had completed all of its pre-launch procedures, the captive carry flight out to the drop site, clean telemetry lock from multiple dishes, a smooth pass through the racetrack, terminal count and a clean release.
The carrier aircraft - Cosmic Girl - and all of its crew landed safely at Mojave Air and Space Port, concluding the mission.
The company’s next rocket is in final stages of integration at its Long Beach manufacturing facility, with a half-dozen other rockets for subsequent missions not far behind.