Bankrupt satellite launch company Virgin Orbit is permanently shutting down after its assets, including buildings, test sites and aircraft, were auctioned to three commercial space companies: Rocket Lab, Stratolaunch and Launcher, a subsidiary of Vast Space.
Virgin Orbit filed for bankruptcy on April 3, 2023, after struggling to recover from a failed satellite launch in the United Kingdom. Prior to that the company had plans to begin commercial space flights from the Spaceport in Cornwall, UK. Since its establishment in 2017, Virgin Orbit successfully launched 33 satellites into space.
“As Virgin Orbit embarks on this path, the management and employees would like to extend their heartfelt gratitude to all stakeholders,” the company said in a statement released on May 23, 2023. “Virgin Orbit’s legacy in the space industry will forever be remembered. Its groundbreaking technologies, relentless pursuit of excellence, and unwavering commitment to advancing the frontiers of air launch have left an indelible mark on the industry.”
The “responsive space launch provider” issued a farewell statement weeks after The Virgin Group began the sale of its bankrupt branch on May 1, 2023, following a voluntary proceeding under Chapter 11 of the United States Bankruptcy Code. As of September 30, 2022, Virgin Orbit was looking to cover a total debt of $153.5 million. However, the recent auction bids for its assets were about $36 million in total.
Stratolaunch secured its ‘stalking horse’ bid agreement on May 17, 2023, which involved the purchase of Boeing 747-400 “Cosmic Girl” and additional aircraft assets for a $17 million bid. The Hypersonic aerospace company has successfully attempted a similar airborne launch method to the one the purchased jet is designed to perform with their carrier aircraft “Roc”.
Rocket Lab made a winning bid of $16.1 million for Virgin Orbit’s Long Beach, California-based headquarters. The acquisition package also includes assets such as 3D printers and a specialized tank welding machine. In a press release, Rocket Lab announced that the purchased assets would enhance its manufacturing, testing, and production capacities, particularly for its larger Neutron rocket.
According to court filings, the third confirmed buyer, Vast Space’s subsidiary, Launcher, will acquire Virgin Orbit’s Mojave, California facility, along with some machinery, equipment, and inventory for $2.7 million. Mojave leases include infrastructure like rocket engine test stands, and while Launcher merged with Vast, it is still developing rockets for other companies to buy.
The final sale hearing is scheduled for May 24, 2023, and the closure of the bankruptcy sale transactions is expected shortly after court approval.
Meanwhile, six rockets, currently at various production stages, and Virgin Orbit’s intellectual property remain unsold.