Richard Branson’s company has gone bankrupt and competitors are buying up its remains

Virgin Orbit, the space company of billionaire Richard Branson, has announced that it is finally ceasing its activities, declaring itself bankrupt and selling off assets at auction. They are being bought by three former competitors: Rocket Lab, Stratolaunch and Vast Space.

Cosmic Girl plane. Source:

Virgin Orbit went bankrupt

Virgin Orbit, the operator of air launches, announced on May 23 that its bankruptcy procedure had entered a crucial phase. The fact that its founder and owner is billionaire Richard Branson could not save it from the problems that have plagued it since last year. Now, according to US law, it must sell its property at an open auction in order to pay off all debts.

The company ‘s statement on this issue is as follows:

“Throughout its history, Virgin Orbit has been at the forefront of innovation and has made substantial contributions to the field of commercial rocket launch with its LauncherOne air launch platform. The Company’s cutting-edge technology, unmatched expertise, and commitment to excellence have propelled it to the vanguard of an emerging commercial launch industry.

As Virgin Orbit embarks on this path, the management and employees would like to extend their heartfelt gratitude to all stakeholders, including customers, partners, investors, and employees, for their support and dedication over the years. It is through their collective efforts that the Company has been able to achieve significant milestones and make lasting contributions to the advancement of satellite launch in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Virgin Orbit’s legacy in the space industry will forever be remembered. 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.”

What is Virgin Orbit

Virgin Orbit should not be confused with Richard Branson’s other creation Virgin Galactic. The latter company is engaged in commercial suborbital flights, has successfully overcome all difficulties, and is now preparing to resume tourist flights on its spaceplanes.

But Virgin Orbit has been very bad for some time. The company was founded by Branson in 2017. Its purpose was commercial launches of cargo into orbit, which would be carried out from aboard a modernized Boeing 747-400 aircraft.

The company started commercial services in 2021 and managed to send commercial civilian satellites and military spacecraft into orbit. LauncherOne rockets were designed and manufactured in Long Beach, California.

Why is the company having problems?

However, in 2022 Virgin Orbit faced financial and technical problems. To overcome them, it borrowed large sums and hoped to return them after the start of launches from the Cornwall cosmodrome in the UK. 

But the launch carried out in January ended with an accident. The rocket with satellites fell into the Irish Sea, which finally undermined investor confidence in this brainchild of Richard Branson. In March, Virgin Orbit sent most of its employees on indefinite leave, effectively dismissing them.

And on April 4, the company announced that it was arbitrarily starting the liquidation procedure in accordance with Article 11 of the US Bankruptcy Code. Since then, it and its legal representatives have settled all related issues.

Who will get the company’s property

The most interesting question that everyone is interested in now is who will get the property of the company, especially its “flying launch pad” and a rocket production plant. And there is already an answer to it. The vast majority of all this will go to the company’s three competitors: Rocket Lab, Stratolaunch and Vast Space.

It is already known that Rocket Lab has offered USD 16.1 million for a production complex in Long Beach. This is not surprising, given that their own headquarters is only a few blocks away. The new owners have already released a statement announcing that they will use the premises to develop their own Neutron rocket and will not buy any of their technologies from Virgin Orbit.

The Launcher company, a manufacturer of launch vehicles, which was acquired by the Vast space station developer in February, offered USD 2.7 million at auction for the lease of a test site in Mojave, California, along with the machines, equipment and inventory located there.

As for the Boeing 747-400 aircraft, which has its own name Cosmic Girl, it will go to Stratolaunch. This company is developing its own giant aircraft that will be used to launch supersonic vehicles. But it seems that they are also very interested in the former Virgin Orbit property. After all, they are ready to pay as much as USD 17 million for it.

The results of the auction exclude any attempts to save the company and bring it out of bankruptcy under a new owner. Virgin Orbit said on May 9 that it had received offers from several parties who were interested in buying the entire company and restoring launch operations. However, who these parties were and whether they participated in the auction remained unclear.

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