Virgin Orbit officially shuts down after selling its 'Cosmic Girl' aircraft

Virgin Orbit has sold off its launch system assets to Stratolaunch, Rocket Lab, and Launch for a total of $36.4 million.
Chris Young
Virgin Orbit's Cosmic Girl.
Virgin Orbit's Cosmic Girl.

Virgin Orbit 

Virgin Orbit, the company that recently failed in its attempt to perform a historic first rocket launch from the United Kingdom, has officially shut down, having filed for bankruptcy in the US last month, the BBC reports.

The company, known for its modified rocket-launching Boeing 747 called "Cosmic Girl", has been selling its assets to survive in recent months.

Virgin Orbit ceases operations

In January, Virgin Orbit reached space from the UK with a satellite mission, but the rocket ultimately failed to reach orbit. The company, which was already operating at a $50.5 million loss, lost nine customer satellites during the mission called "Start Me Up."

Though Virgin Orbit had performed four successful satellite launches from the US beforehand, the failure of its first UK mission likely played a significant role in its subsequent problems. Start Me Up had a lot riding on it, as it was touted as a mission that would kickstart a new era for the UK space industry.

Virgin Orbit paused operations to improve its finances two months after the launch failure. The majority of employees were also laid off. However, the rocket firm could not secure long-term funding and filed for bankruptcy in the US last month.

Its main assets, including Cosmic Girl, have been sold to launch companies Stratolaunch, Rocket Lab, and Launch. Cosmic Girl was developed to carry Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne rocket to an altitude of roughly 35,000 feet (10,700 meters). Once there, LauncherOne would detach from the aircraft and fire its engines once it had reached a safe distance to fly its payloads to orbit.

Virgin Orbit sells its rocket launch assets

Stratolaunch tabled a $17 million bid for Cosmic Girl last week. Last year, Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart said that LauncherOne could eventually be used for more than small satellite launches, adding that it could one day be used to launch hypersonic vehicles for research.

That is likely what Stratolaunch has in mind. The company's Roc aircraft, the most significant operational aircraft in the world, was initially designed for small satellite launches. Stratolaunch came close to bankruptcy in 2019, but it has since successfully repositioned itself as a hypersonic vehicle launcher for customers, including the Pentagon.

A TechCrunch report reveals that Stratolaunch was successful in its bid. Rocket Lab, meanwhile, has acquired Virgin Orbit's 144,000-square-foot Long Beach, California–based manufacturing facility for $16.1 million, and Launcher bought the company's Mojave-based facilities for $2.7 million.

Therefore, Virgin Orbit's asset sale fetched a total of $36.4 million. The company, founded by Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson in 2017, never made a profit as a public company.

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