Virgin Orbit halts operations amid reports of financial struggle
Virgin Orbit has paused all its operations amid reports the company is furloughing almost all of its staff amid an attempt to find a funding lifeline.
The satellite launch company confirmed last Thursday it was putting all work on hold, but it didn’t specify for how long.
“Virgin Orbit is initiating a company-wide operational pause, effective March 16, 2023, and anticipates providing an update on go-forward operations in the coming weeks," the company said in a statement.
It said the move was “to conserve cash while the company continues to evaluate all available options”. The company didn’t comment on reports that all but a small number of workers will be temporarily put on unpaid furlough.
A report from Sky News meanwhile states the company is drawing up contingency plans in the event it becomes insolvent. The broadcaster reports Virgin Group is working with restructuring firms in case it cannot secure new funding.
The California-based company was founded in 2017 by Richard Branson, the British billionaire behind the Virgin Group.
It launches small satellites into space, using its LauncherOne rockets which are fired from the air from modified Virgin passenger planes.
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This allows the company to operate more flexibly than using fixed launch sites. A mission to launch the first satellites into orbit from Europe failed in January after the rocket’s upper stage prematurely shut down.
The failure was a disappointment for Virgin Orbit and British space officials, who had high hopes that the launch would mark the beginning of more commercial opportunities for the UK space industry.
The company said last month that an investigation found its rocket's fuel filter had become dislodged, causing an engine to become overheated and other components to malfunction. The nine small satellites it carried fell back to Earth and landed in the Atlantic Ocean.
"Our investigation is nearly complete and our next production rocket with the needed modification incorporated is in final stages of integration and test," Virgin Orbit said in its statement on Thursday.
The company has said that its next launch will take place from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California for a commercial customer. It hasn't provided a date.
Virgin Orbit has completed four successful satellite launches so far from California for a mix of commercial and US government defence uses. Other than the UK, it also has ambitions to expand its operations to mainland Europe and South Korea.