Virgin Orbit is reportedly furloughing staff and halting all operations

Virgin Orbit is reportedly furloughing staff and halting all operations

Virgin Orbit said Thursday it was suspending all operations as the company is reportedly furloughing nearly all of its employees to find a funding lifeline.

The US-based satellite launch company confirmed it was putting all work on hold, but didn’t say how long the freeze would last.

“Virgin Orbit is initiating a company-wide pause in operations effective March 16, 2023 and expects to provide an update on continued operations in the coming weeks,” the company said in a statement.

The company did not comment on reports from media outlets including Reuters and CNBC that all but a small number of workers will be on temporary unpaid leave.

Virgin Orbit, listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange, was founded by British billionaire Richard Branson in 2017 to develop the market for launching small satellites into space. Its LauncherOne rockets are air-launched from modified Virgin passenger planes, giving the company more flexibility to operate than using fixed launch pads.

In January, a Virgin Orbit mission to launch the first satellites from Europe failed after the LauncherOne rocket’s upper stage exhibited “an anomaly” that led to a premature shutdown, according to the company’s website. The failure was a disappointment for Virgin Orbit and British space officials, who had high hopes the launch would mark the beginning of more commercial opportunities for the UK space industry.

The Jet 747 “Cosmic Girl” — a converted Virgin Atlantic passenger jet with the 70-foot, 57,000-pound LauncherOne rocket under its left wing — took off from Cornwall Airport Newquay near Britain’s south-west coast on January 9 in what had been billed as the first orbital launch from the UK and Western Europe.

Britain’s Virgin Orbit space mission fails as the rocket suffers an ‘anomaly’ after launch at 05:36

After a successful ascent into space, Cosmic Girl successfully unleashed LauncherOne, but the rocket encountered a problem before reaching orbit.

The company said last month that an investigation into the fault found that its rocket’s fuel filter had come loose, causing an engine to overheat and other components to malfunction. The nine small satellites it carried fell back to earth and landed in the Atlantic Ocean.

“Our investigation is almost complete and our next production rocket with the required modification is in the final stages of integration and testing,” Virgin Orbit said in its statement on Thursday.

The investigation includes oversight by regulators in the US and UK, including the US Federal Aviation Administration and the UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch, according to website Virgin Orbit.

The Company has announced that its next commercial customer launch will be from Mojave Air and Space Port in California. It has no date specified.

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