After six years in business, Virgin’s satellite launch subsidiary Virgin Orbit has announced that it lacks the funding to continue operations and is closing for the “foreseeable future”, reports CNBC. Almost 90 percent of Virgin Orbit’s workforce – 675 people – will be laid off immediately.
Virgin Orbit was founded in 2017 to develop and commercialize LauncherOne, a satellite launch system mounted on a modified 747 airliner named Cosmic Girl.
Virgin Orbit has made six flights between 2020 and 2023, and only four of them have been successful. The last attempt was called Start Me Up and was to be the first commercial space launch from Great Britain. Despite the fact that the rocket successfully separated from the carrier aircraft, an “anomaly” in the upper stage prevented the payload from being launched into orbit. It was later determined that the cause of the malfunction was a $100 fuel filter.
As noted by TechCrunch, Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson “threw upwards of $55 million to the sinking space company,” in recent months but Start Me Up’s embarrassing failure turned out to be the final straw. On March 16th, Virgin Orbit announced an “operational pause” and worker furlough for its roughly 750 employees as company leadership scrambled to find new funding sources. The company extended the furlough two weeks later and called it quits on Thursday.
“Unfortunately, we’ve not been able to secure the funding to provide a clear path for this company,” Virgin CEO Dan Hart said in an all-hands call obtained by CNBC. “We have no choice but to implement immediate, dramatic and extremely painful changes.”
Hart said affected employees will receive severance packages that include cash, ongoing benefits and direct communication with Virgin Galactic’s hiring department.