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Virgin Orbit “undone by mismanagement”

April 3, 2023

By Chris Forrester

Barely 18 months ago, Virgin Orbit was valued at $3.7 billion. Its share price on March 31st valued the aircraft-based rocket launch business as being worth just $0.20 per share, and a market capitalisation of just $66 million. There seems little prospect of the business escaping bankruptcy.

Virgin Orbit has laid off almost all of its workforce and insiders claim that the business never had a chance of reaching its own launch ambitions of 12 launches per year and was widely seen as failing to solve some core problems with its technology. It had launched six missions since 2020 of which two failed, and the failure of the recent Spaceport Cornwall launch does not auger well for the other European so-called ‘spaceports’.

Indeed, Virgin Orbit had signed up spaceport entrepreneurs in Japan, Brazil, Australia and the island of Guam and each with similar ambitions to be host for a few days of Virgin Orbit’s ‘Cosmic Girl’ aircraft and LauncherOne rocket.

The knives are also out for the company’s CEO Dan Hart. Hart had a 34-year career at Boeing. COO Tony Gingiss joined Virgin Orbit from OneWeb having also served 14 years with Boeing. Chief Strategy Officer Jim Simpson was another Boeing alumnus having spent eight years with the company. The question being asked is how these skilled people failed to make the system work?

Michael Sheetz, CNBC’s space reporter, says that Virgin Orbit’s senior management struggled but “were ultimately undone by its leaders’ financial mismanagement” and over-egged statements from Sir Richard Branson. Sheetz added: “Following meetings with top Pentagon brass in 2019, Branson proclaimed that Virgin Orbit is ‘about the only company in the world that could replace [satellites] in 24 hours’ during a military conflict”.

Industry expert Tim Farrar, in a series of tweets, said that Virgin Orbit had collected government subsidies for “unviable spaceports”.

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