Virgin Orbit Files for Bankruptcy and Cuts 85% of Staff after Failing to Secure Funding
Virgin Orbit Holdings Inc., the satellite launch firm founded by British billionaire Richard Branson, has filed for bankruptcy after failing to secure the funding needed to keep operating and cutting about 85% of its staff. The company, which emerged as an offshoot of Branson’s space tourism company Virgin Galactic in 2017, aimed to provide a more affordable option for launching small satellites into orbit. Contrary to its competitors such as SpaceX, Virgin Orbit chose to launch its LauncherOne two-stage rocket from midair. The rocket was lifted to an elevation of 35,000 feet by a transformed Boeing 747 nicknamed Cosmic Girl. Virgin Orbit had carried out six total missions since 2020, with four successful launches and two failures.
The bankruptcy filing follows the company’s announcement last week that it was terminating 675 employees, or roughly 85% of its total workforce. The move was necessary “to reduce expenses in light of the Company’s inability to secure meaningful funding,” according to a statement by Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart. Branson’s investment firm, Virgin Investments, has committed $31.6 million in debtor-in-possession financing to keep the company running as it pursues a buyer for its assets. The company is focused on a swift conclusion to its sale process in order to provide clarity on the future of the business for customers, vendors, and employees.
Virgin Orbit was set up to offer a satellite launch service using a LauncherOne rocket vehicle that is carried to high altitude and deployed from under the wing of a modified Boeing 747 named Cosmic Girl. The aim was to significantly decrease the expense of sending small satellites into outer space. Despite its initial failure to reach orbit in May 2020, LauncherOne successfully deployed 33 satellites into orbit during the period of 2021-2022. LauncherOne vehicles production at the Long Beach, California facility of the company had been experiencing expansion. The UK's initial attempt at flight was unsuccessful on January 9th.
Among the few rocket companies based in the United States, Virgin Orbit has accomplished the feat of achieving orbit using a launch vehicle that was developed privately. Since 2020, six missions have been launched, with four being successful and two resulting in failures. Despite the setbacks, CEO Dan Hart credited the company for developing a “new and innovative method” to launch satellites into orbit and expressed confidence that the company would get a buyer interested in using the tech to loft satellites in the future. The priority for Virgin Orbit is to quickly finalize the sale process to bring transparency to the company's future.
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