Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit shuts shop one month after filing for bankruptcy

Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit is shutting down less than two months after the satellite launch start-up filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, according to a Tuesday company announcement.

Virgin Orbit will cease operations and sell its assets to four winning bidders, the company announced Tuesday. Those bidders include three aerospace companies — Rocket Lab, Stratolaunch and Vast Space subsidiary Launcher — with combined bids totaling almost $36 million, according to court documents.

A sale hearing for court approval is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon and transactions are expected to close soon after, the company said.

“Virgin Orbit’s legacy in the space industry will forever be remembered,” Virgin Orbit said in a Tuesday statement. “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 move to sell and cease operations arrives amid a tumultuous period for the Long Beach, California-based company.

On April 4, Virgin Orbit filed for bankruptcy protection shortly after laying off about 85% of its workforce. The satellite launcher notably faced increased difficulty raising funding following a failed international mission earlier this year.

In January, a mission by Virgin Orbit to launch the first satellites into orbit from Cornwall in southwest England failed after a rocket’s upper stage prematurely shut down. It was a setback in the U.K., which had hoped that the launch would mark the beginning of more commercial opportunities for the region’s space industry.

A following investigation found that its rocket’s fuel filter had become dislodged, the company said in February, causing an engine to become overheated and other components to malfunction over the Atlantic Ocean.

Virgin Orbit was founded in 2017 by Branson, a British billionaire, in hopes of targeting the market for launching small satellites into space.

Its LauncherOne rockets were launched from the air from modified Virgin passenger planes, allowing the company to operate more flexibly than using fixed launch sites. For the third quarter of 2022, Virgin Orbit reported a revenue of $30.9 million and net loss of $43.6 million.

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