It seems literal, that a rocket man can experience a crash and burn. Virgin Orbit, the space company founded by billionaire Richard Branson, has hit a major financial roadblock as it files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection after it failed to secure long-term funding.
The California-based space company filed for bankruptcy in the US Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware seeking a sale of its assets. “We believe that the Chapter 11 process represents the best path forward to identify and finalize an efficient and value-maximizing sale,” Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart said in a statement. In the filing, the company revealed that it had assets of about $243 million and total debt of $153.5 million (as of September 30).
This development comes months after a failed launch in January, as well as the laying off of 675 employees, or approximately 85% of the staff last month. At the same time, Virgin Orbit suspended its operations, and despite its efforts, its financial trajectory veered off course, leaving the company no choice but to seek legal protection. The company was valued at $65 million at the close of trading on Monday.
Virgin Orbit’s shares on the New York Stock Exchange were down by 3% on Monday evening to fall to $0.1570. The company went public two years ago through a blank-check deal and spun off from Branson’s space tourism firm Virgin Galactic four years before that. Until the recent troubles, it continued its operations of launching rockets from beneath a modified Boeing 747 plane to send satellites into orbit (which allows for short-notice launches from anywhere).
However, the launch of its sixth mission (in January 2023) with its LauncherOne rocket ended in a failure, wherein the first rocket launch out of Britain failed to reach orbit and the payload of US and UK intelligence satellites were sent to the depth of the ocean instead of reaching the stars. This spectacular failure prompted the company to scramble to find additional funding, the inability of which prompted Virgin Orbit to lay off an overwhelming majority of its employees and suspend its operations in March.
“I’m sorry we didn’t act sooner and avoid surprising you,” wrote Tony Gingiss, who was Virgin Orbit’s chief operating officer until Monday. “I’m sorry that I was not able to convince our leader and board to take a different path to give us more time to figure things out.” Currently, Virgin Orbit’s largest creditor is London-based Arqit Ltd, which was owed almost $10 million for services and as a customer deposit. The US military is the second-largest creditor, according to the filing.