Virgin Orbit's Space Launch Operations Grounded: The End of an Era?

Virgin Orbit’s Space Launch Operations Grounded: The End of an Era?

Virgin Orbit, the satellite launch subsidiary of Virgin, has announced its closure after six years of operation. In a stunning development, the company revealed that it will not be able to secure the funding to continue its operations, leading to the immediate layoff of nearly 90% of its workforce, or 675 people in total.

Virgin Orbit was founded in 2017 to develop and commercialize LauncherOne, a satellite launch system that fired rockets from a modified 747 airliner, nicknamed Cosmic Girl. While the system experienced early success in terms of development milestones and service contracts, its first official test launch failed to deliver its payload into orbit in May 2020.

Although the company had some successes, launching 10 NASA cube sats into Low Earth Orbit and quietly launching Space Force assets in 2022, it only achieved four successful flights out of six between 2020 and 2023.

Virgin Group founder, Sir Richard Branson, threw millions of dollars into the sinking company in recent months, but the failure of its most recent launch attempt was the final straw. On March 16th, the company announced an “operational pause” and worker furlough while leadership sought new funding sources. However, this proved unsuccessful, and the company was forced to call it quits on Thursday.

Virgin CEO Dan Hart described the situation as “extremely painful” and emphasized that the impacted employees would receive severance packages, including a cash payment and continued benefits. He also announced that Virgin Orbit’s two top executives would receive “golden parachute” severances approved by the company’s board in mid-March.

The news has sent shockwaves through the space industry, and many are wondering what this means for the future of satellite launches.

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