Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit files for bankruptcy, looking for financial bailout

Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit Holdings filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Tuesday after the satellite launch company failed to secure the long-term funding needed to help it recover from a January rocket failure.

The Long Beach, California-based company lodged the filing in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware seeking a sale of its assets after announcing the layoff of roughly 85% of its 750 employees last week.

“We believe that the Chapter 11 process represents the best path forward to identify and finalize an efficient and value-maximizing sale,” Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart said in a statement.

The company listed assets of about $243 million and total debt at $153.5 million as of Sept. 30 in the filing.

Virgin Orbit went public in 2021 through a blank-check deal, raising $255 million less than expected. Spun off from Branson’s space tourism firm Virgin Galactic in 2017, Virgin Orbit air-launches rockets from beneath a modified Boeing 747 plane to send satellites into orbit.

Virgin Orbit’s strategy has been that launching small rockets from a 747 in flight would allow for short-notice launches from anywhere.

But a shift in demand toward larger launch rockets and more cost-effective shared rides to space on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket over the past two years raised the competitive stakes for Virgin Orbit, analysts and industry executives have said.

Virgin Orbit’s sixth mission in January with its centerpiece LauncherOne rocket, the first rocket launch out of Britain, failed to reach orbit and sent its payload of U.S. and UK intelligence satellites plunging into the ocean.

The company scrambled to find new funding after the rocket failure, halting operations and furloughing nearly all its employees on March 15 to conserve cash.


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