Virgin Orbit stops operations and furloughs staff as it seeks funding

Shares fell as much as 52% in post-market trading in New York late on Wednesday

A person wearing an alien costume poses next to a Virgin Orbit rocket at the spaceport in Newquay, Britain, in January. Reuters
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Virgin Orbit, the satellite launch company founded by Richard Branson and part of the same group as space tourism venture Virgin Galactic, has ceased operations and furloughed staff while it attempts to secure more funding.

The changes were announced at a meeting with employees on Wednesday, according to a source. Nearly all Virgin Orbit staff were furloughed for the week, with a limited number remaining.

A Virgin Orbit representative confirmed the move to stop operations but did not comment on the furloughs.

“Virgin Orbit is initiating a company-wide operational pause, effective March 16, 2023, and anticipates providing an update on go-forward operations in the coming weeks,” the representative said.

The company's shares fell as much as 52 per cent to 49 cents in post-market trading in New York late on Wednesday after its announcement that it was halting operations.

CNBC reported on the disruptions earlier on Wednesday.

Virgin Orbit had been running low on cash. It reported an operating loss of $149 million for the first nine months of 2022 during its previous earnings announcement.

It had also been raising periodic funding from Virgin Investments. The company is set to report earnings for the fourth quarter of 2022 on March 29.

Virgin Orbit is also recovering from a high-profile launch failure that occurred in January. It had been set to launch nine small satellites out of Spaceport Cornwall, in the UK town of Newquay, in what was supposed to be the first orbital rocket launch from British soil.

However, the rocket suffered a mishap during flight and never reached orbit, leading to the loss of all satellites on board.

Virgin Orbit has since blamed the accident on a fuel filter that became dislodged during the launch.

“On the ops side, our investigation is nearly complete and our next production rocket with the needed modification incorporated is in final stages of integration and test,” the representative said.

Updated: March 16, 2023, 3:53 AM