Richard Branson ends Virgin Orbit operations after UK space mission failure | Science & Tech News

Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit has announced it will be shutting down.

It comes a few months after a space mission ended in disappointment, when a rocket carrying the first satellites launched from the UK failed to reach orbit and was lost.

On Tuesday, the firm revealed it was closing down after its assets were sold for $36.4m (£29 million).

An agreement was also made to sell the bulk of its Long Beach, California, headquarters to a small-launch firm called Rocket Lab USA.

According to a court filing, Rocket Lab won the Virgin Orbits primary manufacturing site for $16m.

The purchase agreement included machinery and equipment that had been used to manufacture Virgin Orbits flagship LauncherOne rockets.

The rocket – which began operational flights in 2021- was air-launched from the belly of a modified Boeing 747.

The California-based firm put out a statement thanking its employees and other stakeholders.

Virgin Orbit said it would sell its assets to a total of four winning bidders and end operations.

“The combined total proceeds were determined by a rigorous and competitive auction which maximizes value for the estate and minimises the remaining duration of the Company’s restructuring,” the statement said.

“Virgin Orbit’s legacy in the space industry will forever be remembered.”

Part of the wider Virgin Group, the firm was founded by billionaire Richard Branson and is a company within the Virgin Group.

A timeline of events

2017: The company was first formed.

May 2020: LauncherOne – the rocket – fails to reach orbit on its first launch.

January 2021: LauncherOne becomes the first Virgin Orbit spacecraft to reach orbit successfully.

June 2021: The rocket LauncherOne delivers its first commercial payload to space.

January 2022: LauncherOne delivers seven CubeSats for three customers into orbit.

July 2022: LauncherOne flies a successful mission.

January 2023: LauncherOne failed to reach orbit from the UK at Spaceport Cornwall.

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In March, Virgin Orbit announced it would be laying off 85% of some of its 750 employees.

The company then filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in early April.

The firm also plans to sell its aircraft assets, including the modified Boeing 747 Cosmic Girl carrier aircraft to Stratolaunch for 17 million dollars.

Its primary launch site will be sold to spacecraft start-up Launcher Inc.