Virgin Orbit’s rocket dream ends after mission failure

Virgin Orbit LauncherOne.

Sir Richard Branson’s rocket company Virgin Orbit has shut down, just months after a major mission failure.

The firm’s converted jet and leases on properties have been sold for $36m, just a fraction of the $3.7bn the company was valued at in 2021.

In March, Virgin Orbit said it would make most of its workforce redundant after failing to secure new investment. The California-based firm filed for bankruptcy protection in the US early last month.

It came just weeks after the company paused operations in an apparent attempt to shore up its finances. Earlier this year, a Virgin Orbit rocket failed to complete the first ever satellite launch from UK soil.

Virgin Orbit’s headquarters, rocket factory and equipment were bought by rival start-up, Rocket Lab, for $16.1m. Its converted Boeing 747 jet, called Cosmic Girl, was sold for $17m to aerospace firm Stratolaunch.

Another space company, Launcher Inc, bought Virgin Orbit’s launch site and lease in the Mojave desert for $2.7m. Virgin Orbit, which was founded in 2017, never turned a profit as a public company.

It developed rockets to carry small satellites and is part of Sir Richard’s business empire, which includes airline Virgin Atlantic and space tourism company Virgin Galactic. In January, Virgin Orbit attempted the first ever satellite mission launched from UK soil which ended in failure.

The company’s LauncherOne rocket reached space but fell short of reaching its target orbit.

The mission was billed as a milestone for UK space exploration. It had been hoped it would mark a major step forward to fulfilling an ambition to turn the country into a global player – from manufacturing satellites to building rockets and creating new spaceports.


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