Virgin Orbit, the aerospace business of British entrepreneur and billionaire Richard Branson, has suspended operations and is laying off most of its staff. The company has been in financial jeopardy since the failed launch of a space rocket in Western Europe.
On January 10, 2023, the LauncherOne rocket was launched over the Atlantic Ocean from a specially modified Boeing 747-400 called Cosmic Girl. While the launch at an altitude of just over 10 kilometers was successful, the rocket failed to reach its intended orbit, causing the loss of eight small satellites it was carrying onboard. The Cosmic Girl aircraft then returned safely to Cornwall Airport in the United Kingdom.
In mid-March 2023, Virgin Orbit suspended operations while looking for fresh capital to continue its activities.
However, this tactic now seems to have been unsuccessful. On March 30, 2023, the company announced in a stock market document it would lay off some 675 people, 85% of its workforce, in order to reduce its expenses. The job cuts are due to be completed by April 3, 2023.
“Unfortunately, we’ve not been able to secure the funding to provide a clear path for this company. We have no choice but to implement immediate, dramatic, and extremely painful changes,” Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart said in a meeting, according to audio obtained by CNBC.
Founded by Branson in 2017, Virgin Orbit specialized in the launch of small satellites. Compared to conventional rockets, aerially launched versions present a number of benefits, such as the ability to conduct launches from unprepared locations and at short notice. Their payloads, however, tend to be more limited in weight.