Virgin Orbit ceases operations months after UK space mission failure
Virgin Orbit's first rocket launch attempt failed to launch from British soil, prompting the company to reconsider its venture.
Just months after a major mission failure, Virgin Orbit, the satellite launch company founded by British billionaire Richard Branson, will permanently cease operations.
The firm, which is based in California, auctioned off its main assets after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the US in April, recovering just over $36m. The figure is almost 1% of what the company reached in late 2021 on Wall Street when it was valued at $3.5 billion.
In an announcement to sell its assets to four winning bidders and then folding, Virgin Orbit thanked its employees and stakeholders and announced that the company will be remembered for its "groundbreaking technologies."
The company said on Tuesday that “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 was formed as part of the space tourism business, Virgin Galactic, which transported Branson on a sub-orbital flight in 2021, nine days ahead of his billionaire rival, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.
Billionaires race to space!— Al Mayadeen English (@MayadeenEnglish) July 14, 2021
Here are the differences between #RichardBranson's Virgin Galactic and #JeffBezos' Blue Origin space vehicles. pic.twitter.com/Cs13laUiX8
Virgin Orbit spun out on its own from Galactic in 2017, and in late 2021 rode a wave of investor enthusiasm in a merger with a cash shell, which listed its shares on New York's Nasdaq stock exchange.
The company aimed to provide swift and adaptable space launch services for the growing small satellites market. It used a rocket, LauncherOne, strapped under the wing of a converted Boeing 747 called Cosmic Girl - a horizontal launch method that is different from most rivals' vertical launches.
Earlier this year, the company was faced with a crippling setback when the first rocket launch attempt failed to launch into space from British soil. The launch of a rocket from Cornwall in January drew huge crowds and mass interest and the company announced that an anomaly meant the rocket would not reach the required altitude, but was later lost.
The company paused operations and put staff on furlough in early March as it tried to secure a funding lifeline and stop burning through cash. It cut 85% of its staff at the end of March after it failed to secure fresh funding.