Virgin Orbit ceases operations following UK space mission failure and funding setbacks
Richard Branson’s satellite launch company Virgin Orbit will permanently close and has filed for bankruptcy protection in the U.S.
The California-based firm has sold off assets — including converted jets and property leases — for $36 million after filing for bankruptcy protection April 4. The money recouped is less than 1% of the $3.7 billion the company was valued at in 2021.
In March, the company said it would be making a large proportion of its workforce redundant after a failed bid to secure new investment.
Virgin Orbit was founded in 2017 as an offshoot of Virgin Galactic — the space tourism company which successfully carried Branson on a suborbital flight in 2021.
Virgin Orbit’s aim was to penetrate the growing small satellite market by providing efficient and adaptable space launch services. Its innovative approaches included a horizontal launch method where a rocket, LauncherOne, was strapped under the wing of a converted Boeing 747 called Cosmic Girl.
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In January, Virgin Orbit’s milestone mission to launch the first rocket into space from British soil failed after the rocket was unable to reach the required altitude. After the setback, the company paused operations and placed staff on furlough, eventually cutting around 85% of its staff.
Cosmic Girl was sold for $17 million to aerospace company Stratolaunch, while rival startup Rocket Lab acquired Virgin Orbit’s rocket factory, equipment and headquarters for $16.1 million. Launcher Inc. purchased Orbit’s lease and launch site in the Mojave Desert for $2.7 million.
“Throughout its history, Virgin Orbit has been at the forefront of innovation and has made substantial contributions to the field of commercial rocket launch,” the company said in a statement, adding that it would be remembered for its “groundbreaking technologies.”