Virgin Orbit crashes back to earth after running out of funding

- March 31, 2023 2 MIN READ
A Virgin Orbit LauncherOne rocket launched midflight from a 747. Photo: Virgin Orbit
Sir Richard Branson’s space tech startup Virgin Orbit, which launches rockets mid-air from under a 747, is shutting down after it failed to find more funding.

CNBC reports that Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart told staff most operations will cease “for the foreseeable future” with 675 people losing their jobs and a skeleton staff of 100 remaining.

“Unfortunately, we’ve not been able to secure the funding to provide a clear path for this company,” Hart told staff.

“We have no choice but to implement immediate, dramatic and extremely painful changes.”

In its Nasdaq filing, Virgin Orbit said 85% of jobs will go, at a cost of around US$15 million.

Virgin Orbit had furloughed its team in mid March as it hunted for additional capital. A week ago, reports emerged that a US VC investor, Matthew Brown was preparing to put $200 million into the business.

The company’s share price has fallen more than 80% since the start of 2023 and now sits at US$0.34 cents.

Virgin Orbit’s billionaire founder and majority owner, Sir Richard Branson, refused to provide additional capital.

Things have not been going to plan for Virgin Orbit, with a launch failure from the 747, named “Cosmic Girl”, from the UK in January.  The rocket, carrying 9 satellites, crashed after a problem with its second stage. A $100 part believed to be the cause.

It’s success rate from six missions since 2020 is 66% – four worked, two failed, including that most recent attempt.

Virgin Orbit was a spin-out from Branson’s space tourism business Virgin Galactic in 2017. The British entrepreneur had a 75% stake in the business, which listed on the Nasdaq in December 2021 via a SPAC deal that didn’t go to plan, raising just US$228 million of the $483 million sought. The shares were worth US$10 each, with the business meant to be valued at  US$3.7 billion

CNBC reported Virgin Orbit was being offered for sale for around US$200 million earlier this month as the business tried to stave off bankruptcy.