Virgin Orbit files for bankruptcy protection in US after failing to find funding

By Kalyeena Makeortoff,
Published by The Guardian, 4 April 2023

Move by firm founded by Sir Richard Branson comes days after 85% cut of workforce announced

Virgin Orbit, the satellite launch company founded by the billionaire Sir Richard Branson, has filed for bankruptcy protection in the US after last-ditch efforts to find funding for the struggling space firm fell through.

It comes less than a week after the company announced it was cutting 85% of its workforce, leaving roughly 100 employees to run what was left of the business. The US-based firm will seek a buyer for its assets.

“While we have taken great efforts to address our financial position and secure additional financing, we ultimately must do what is best for the business,” the chief executive, Dan Hart, said.

“We believe the cutting-edge launch technology this team has created will have wide appeal to buyers as we continue in the process to sell the company. At this stage, we believe the Chapter 11 process represents the best path forward to identify and finalise an efficient and value-maximising sale.”

The bankruptcy proceedings come three months after Virgin Orbit – which was founded by Branson and is 75% owned by Virgin Investments – failed in its mission to launch the first satellite from UK soil in January.

The company said the botched launch, which was billed as a historic moment for Britain, was the result of an anomaly that meant the rocket could not reach the required altitude and was later lost.

Virgin Orbit subsequently paused operations and put staff on furlough in early March as it tried to secure a funding lifeline.

While Branson himself stumped up more than $70m (£56m) over the past four months to help keep the company afloat, a lack of interested external investors eventually forced the firm to announce it was cutting the bulk of its roughly 800 staff at the end of March, most of whom were let go on Monday of this week.

Virgin Group was understood to be flagging potential job opportunities for those out of work at its sister firm Virgin Galactic, which aims to offer space flights to tourists.

Virgin Investments said on Tuesday it would provide Virgin Orbit with $31.6m to continue operating while it tries to sell off its assets. Virgin Orbit said it planned to pay its suppliers and vendors “to the fullest extent possible” and was committed to working with customers to try to find a buyer “able to continue to fulfil their needs”.

Hart said he was optimistic that Virgin Orbit – or at least its component parts – would find new life under new ownership. “I am confident of what we have built and hopeful to achieve a transaction that positions our company and our technology for future opportunities and missions,” he said.

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