Virgin Orbit Files for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Protection

The satellite launch company’s operations were hurt by a failed launch earlier this year.

Unlike SpaceX and other competitors, Virgin Orbit uses aircraft to launch its satellite-carrying rockets. [Courtesy: Virgin Orbit]

Virgin Orbit Holdings, Inc., the satellite launch and service company, said it has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy law protection in the United States Bankruptcy Court in the District of Delaware. The filing is part of a plan “to effectuate a sale of the business,” the company said.

The Chapter 11 announcement follows the revelation last week that Virgin Orbit was cutting most of its staff because of its inability to raise enough capital to continue operations. The company apparently was not able to recover following a failed satellite launch in January from its Spaceport Cornwall base in England.

The company, which Virgin Group founder Richard Branson started in 2017, developed a system called LauncherOne that uses a modified Boeing 747 to carry its rockets aloft before launching, essentially giving them a head start into orbit. This method contrasts with the traditional large, pad-launched rockets that rivals like SpaceX use to carry satellites.

“The team at Virgin Orbit has developed and brought into operation a new and innovative method of launching satellites into orbit, introducing new technology and managing great challenges and great risks along the way as we proved the system and performed several successful space flights—including successfully launching 33 satellites into their precise orbit,” said Virgin Orbit CEO.Dan Hart. “While we have taken great efforts to address our financial position and secure additional financing, we ultimately must do what is best for the business,” he said.

The company said Virgin Investment Ltd. has committed to provide $31.6 million in financing expected to give Virgin Orbit the liquidity it needs to continue operating as it pursues a sale transaction “that positions our company and our technology for future opportunities and missions.”

Jonathan Welsh is a private pilot who worked as a reporter, editor and columnist with the Wall Street Journal for 21 years, mostly covering the auto industry. His passion for aviation began in childhood with balsa-wood gliders his aunt would buy for him at the corner store. Follow Jonathan on Twitter @JonathanWelsh4

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