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Virgin Orbit shuts down

May 24, 2023

By Chris Forrester

Virgin Orbit’s asset sale has seen its key elements go to many disparate groups. The Sir Richard Branson-backed business has not survived as a going concern. The rocket-launching company has now completely shut down.

Virgin Orbit’s asset sale, organised under the supervision of its bankruptcy court, raised just $36 million (€33.3m) which means that the asset buyers have gained elements that have cost them just pennies on the dollar. The $36.5 million is barely 1 per cent of the value when it floated in late 2021 which valued the business at $3.5 billion.

Branson injected more than $1 billion into the venture.

A statement from Virgin Orbit announced the names of the four ‘winning’ bidders and said it was now closing down. It thanked its shareholders and staff.

“Throughout its history, Virgin Orbit has been at the forefront of innovation and has made substantial contributions to the field of commercial rocket launch,” the company said.

The key buyers are:

  • RocketLab, which bid $16.1 million for Virgin Orbit’s HQ at Long Beach, California. The purchase includes a 140,000 sq ft factory plus 3D printers and a speciality tank-welding machine. The assets will be put to work for RocketLab’s Neutron rockets. “With Neutron’s design and development well-advanced, this transaction represents a capital expenditure savings opportunity to augment our production capability to bring Neutron to the launch pad quickly to serve our customers and their future success. Securing the lease to the [Virgin Orbit facility] adds to our existing presence in Long Beach and provides co-located engineering, manufacturing, and test capabilities for our Neutron team,” Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck said in a statement.
  • Stratolaunch paid $17 million for the ‘Cosmic Girl’ converted Boeing 747 aircraft. Stratolaunch has been developing its own aircraft launch system, and owns the world’s largest airplane called ‘Roc’, as a platform for hypersonic flight testing.
  • Vast Space’s Launcher is buying Virgin Orbit’s Mojave Desert facility, and paying $2.7 million for the premises including rocket engine test facilities and the aircraft hanger.
  • Inliper, a specialist liquidation company, is paying $650,000 for Virgin Orbit’s office equipment.

The Bankruptcy Court is expected to approve the various deals in a hearing today [May 24th].

However, the end of the business could also now impact the various other airfield-based launch sites around the world. One high-profile business to be potentially affected could be the Spaceport Cornwall at Newquay airport in the south-west of England. This was the site of the last Virgin Orbit launch which ended in failure.

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