Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit furloughs staff, halts operations

Virgin Orbit, the Richard Branson-founded satellite launch firm and sibling company of space tourism venture Virgin Galactic, has paused operations and furloughed staff while it attempts to secure more funding.

The changes were announced at an all-hands meeting with employees on Wednesday, according to a person familiar with the matter. Nearly all Virgin Orbit staff were furloughed for the week, with limited staff remaining.

The troubles continue for Virgin Orbit, the satellite launch business fronted by Richard Branson.Credit:Bloomberg

A spokesperson for Virgin Orbit confirmed the operations pause in a statement to Bloomberg, 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 spokesperson said.

Shares of the company fell as much as 52 per cent to 49 US cents in postmarket trading in New York late on Wednesday after its announcement halting operations.

CNBC reported on the disruptions earlier on Wednesday.

Virgin Orbit had been running low on cash. It reported an operating loss of $US149 million ($225 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 what was supposed to be the first orbital rocket launch from British soil. The rocket, however, 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 spokesperson said.


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