Virgin Orbit Shuts Down Operations and Divests Assets Following April Bankruptcy

UTC by Tolu Ajiboye · 3 min read
Virgin Orbit Shuts Down Operations and Divests Assets Following April Bankruptcy
Photo: Virgin Orbit

Aerospace spinoff Virgin Orbit recently shut down, ending six years of operation after failing to secure a funding lifeline.

Virgin Orbit has shut down its operations following the disposal of its assets and equipment to a trio of aerospace companies in a bankruptcy sale. The company confirmed its closure after Rocket Lab (NASDAQ: RKLB), Stratolaunch, and Vast’s Launcher procured its assets in an auction. Virgin Group thanked all its stakeholders for contributing to the company’s six-year operations, during which it advanced the aerospace industry.

The statement read:

“As Virgin Orbit embarks on this path, the management and employees would like to extend their heartfelt gratitude to all stakeholders. Virgin Orbit’s legacy in the space industry will forever be remembered. Its ground-breaking technologies, relentless pursuit of excellence, and unwavering commitment to advancing the frontiers of air launch have left an indelible mark on the industry.”

Virgin Orbit Shut Down Comes Weeks after Company’s Insolvency Run

Virgin Orbit’s shutdown of operations came over seven weeks after the company filed for bankruptcy protection in early April. At the time, the Virgin Galactic (NYSE: SPC) spinoff had failed to secure funding that could ensure its survival. Virgin Orbit also laid off almost all its staff because of the insolvency crisis.

Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson spun Virgin Orbit out of Virgin Galactic on March 2nd, 2017. Branson founded the company to develop and market the LauncherOne two-stage orbital launch vehicle. The LauncherOne rocket was previously a project under Virgin Galactic, Branson’s space tourism venture.

Although Virgin Orbit flew several missions, the small satellite launcher encountered difficulty raising funds. It was this problem, and slow execution, that ultimately led to the California-based company’s demise.

Virgin Orbit sold its facility leases and equipment in a bankruptcy auction on Monday, with bids approximating $36 million. However, a spokesperson confirmed that about six of the company’s rockets in various stages of assembly were not part of Monday’s sales. In addition, the company spokesperson also revealed that Virgin Orbit’s intellectual property has yet to be sold.

Auction Players

Rocket Lab, one of the auction’s buyers, successfully bid $16.1 million for Virgin Orbit’s headquarters in Long Beach, California. The New Zealand-founded aerospace company already has its headquarters and facilities in the same area close to Virgin Orbit. By securing its bankrupt neighbor’s facility, Rocket Lab now has an additional 140,000 square feet of physical space to enhance its own operations. The company also purchased other assets from the defunct Virgin Orbit, including 3D printers and a specialty tank welding machine.

In a press release, Rocket Lab said the newly acquired assets will improve all-round operability, especially the development of the larger Neutron rocket. The company’s founder and chief executive officer, Peter Beck, explained:

“This transaction represents a capital expenditure savings opportunity to augment our [well-advanced] production capability to bring Neutron to the launch pad quickly to serve our customers and their future success.”

Another asset-bidder, Stratolaunch, secured Virgin Orbit’s modified rocket-carrying 747 jet for $17 million. A spokesperson said the company procured the aircraft to boost its service capacity.

Meanwhile, Vast Space subsidiary Launcher acquired Virgin Orbit’s facility in Mojave, California, and additional assets, for $2.7 million. The Mojave lease comes with rocket engine test stands and an aircraft hangar.

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