Virgin Orbit Operations Come Crashing Down

Jennifer Leakos
Virgin Orbit space launcher
Courtesy of Virgin Orbit

Virgin Orbit has officially announced that it has “ceased operations for the foreseeable future”. While Orbit is a part of the Richard Branson Virgin fam, this is not to be confused with Virgin Galactic, focused on commercial space travel, or Virgin Airlines, focused on commercial air travel.

Virgin Orbit is a little like the disappointing child – we can relate.

Background: Virgin was built trying to revolutionize space launch systems by using a retrofitted Boeing 747 to drop a rocket under its wing and send satellites to space. 

  • This would be more cost-effective than the typical vertical rocket launchers and several governments had been interested in the technology. 

Since 2020, they had four successful missions out of 6 in total, but unfortunately suffered a failed launch in January of this year.

No Money, Mo Problems: Orbit failed to secure enough funding for its operations and then burned through their cash faster than they brought it in like they were Mike Tyson.

  • The company went public in December 2021 under a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC, remember those?) seeking $400 million in funding at the time, but only managed to raise half of that. 

In total, Richard Branson has invested over $1 billion in Virgin Orbit.

What’s next: The company will be laying off 675 employees, approximately 85 percent of its workforce, but with opportunities for the affected employees to transition to Virgin Galactic. 

Zoom out: Virgin Orbit hoped to bring the UK further into the (private) space race. But like most of the tech sector, space technology is being impacted by the current economic climate.