After Failed Launch, Virgin Orbit Ceases Operating

Company that lost its rocket, satellites in January has furloughed most of its staff
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 10, 2023 6:19 AM CST
Updated Mar 16, 2023 8:07 AM CDT
Virgin's Satellite Launch From a 747 Doesn't Go Well
A repurposed Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 aircraft, named Cosmic Girl, carrying Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne rocket, takes off from Spaceport Cornwall at Cornwall Airport in Newquay, England, on Monday.   (Ben Birchall/PA via AP)
UPDATE Mar 16, 2023 8:07 AM CDT

The good news for most of Virgin Orbit's employees on Wednesday: They're getting at least a week off, starting ASAP. The bad news: It's unpaid furlough, as the California-based company tries to seek out more funding after a failed rocket launch in the UK in January, reports the Guardian. Virgin Orbit chief Dan Hart told workers that the shutdown was designed to give the company time to come up with an investment plan to help remedy its financial issues, and that the sabbatical would last at least a week, with just a small crew of employees still punching in, a source tells Reuters. Shares dropped 18.8% on the news, down to 82 cents. Hart said he hoped to have an update for Virgin Orbit team members by the middle of next week on a possible return date.

Jan 10, 2023 6:19 AM CST

A 70-foot rocket loaded with nine satellites was launched late Monday in the UK by Virgin Orbit, carried into space by a modified Boeing 747 named "Cosmic Girl" that was helmed by a Royal Air Force pilot. But although the rocket successfully made its way into space after it was released from the aircraft, surging forward at one point at more than 11,000mph, it suffered an "anomaly" that brought its mission to a close "prematurely," per a Virgin Orbit statement. CEO Dan Hart notes that a "technical failure" seems to have marred the launch, citing the "first-time nature of this mission [that] added layers of complexity."

The New York Times notes the launch was meant to be a big boost for Britain's space industry, even though the Richard Branson-founded company is based in California. That's because even though UK firms have long manufactured satellites, they've had to depend on rockets in other locales—New Zealand, Cape Canaveral in Florida—to send them into space. It also would've been the the "first big payoff" since Brexit in the UK's government's attempts to light a fire under its space industry.

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CNBC—which notes this was Virgin Orbit's sixth mission so far, and its second launch failure—reports the company's shares fell by as much as 30% in after-hours trading Monday following the failed launch, from a previous close of $1.93 per share. Per the AP, the rocket and satellites were destroyed, while the 747 returned to where it took off from in Cornwall. British officials and Virgin Orbit staff say although this launch was disappointing, they're determined to figure out what went wrong and set out for orbit again. "Yes, space is hard, but we are only just getting started," Melissa Thorpe, the head of Spaceport Cornwall, says in the Virgin Orbit statement. (More Virgin Orbit stories.)

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