Virgin Orbit, the start-up satellite launcher founded by Richard Branson, has announced its decision to sell its assets and cease operations.
The company’s move comes after filing for bankruptcy and laying off a significant portion of its workforce. Initially viewed as a symbol of the growing commercial space industry, Virgin Orbit aimed to revolutionize space access by launching affordable satellites from a rocket attached to a Boeing 747 airplane. The company garnered attention from entities like the Pentagon due to its capability to launch from any large enough runway.
However, despite achieving the successful orbit of its LauncherOne rocket in 2021, Virgin Orbit faced infrequent launches and experienced a launch failure earlier this year.
The company’s struggles began when it went public through a special acquisition company (SPAC) just as investor interest in such vehicles was waning, resulting in a failure to secure the expected $382 million in funding. However, Virgin Orbit continued to expand its workforce and spend at a rapid pace, with detailed financials from the third quarter of 2022 revealing a net loss of $43.6 million on revenue of $30.9 million.
Virgin Orbit’s CEO, Dan Hart, acknowledged in an interview with The Washington Post that financial and operational missteps played a significant role in the company’s depletion of hundreds of millions of dollars while achieving only a few successful launches. Reflecting on his decisions, Hart emphasized the inherent challenges and uncertainties associated with innovation, admitting the potential for both progress and setbacks.
Despite hopes of launching one more time and attracting a buyer, Virgin Orbit was unable to secure a deal. The company subsequently announced its intention to sell its assets to three commercial space companies: Rocket Lab, Stratolaunch, and Launcher, a subsidiary of Vast Space.
As the space industry evolves, Virgin Orbit’s legacy will serve as a reminder that failure is an inherent part of pursuing innovation and that difficult choices can shape the trajectory of a company.