Virgin Orbit pauses operations and furloughs most staff

Spaceport Cornwall
  • Virgin Orbit has paused its operations and furloughed its workforce as it hunts for a funding lifeline.

Bosses told employees at a meeting on Wednesday that the remainder of the workforce will be put on unpaid furlough, although employees can cash in annual leave.

The decision comes after Virgin Orbit’s attempt to make the first satellite launch from UK soil, in Newquay, in January failed.

Virgin Orbit’s shares dropped 18.8 per cent to 82 cents following the announcement. The stock is listed on the US Nasdaq exchange.

It was hoped that a new rocket launch would take place later this year from Spaceport Cornwall but that is now looking highly unlikely.

Around £20m has been invested in the project from a group including the Cornwall Council, Virgin and the UK Space Agency.

The project was expected to create around 150 jobs and allow the UK to compete in the global market for deploying small satellites.

It is understood that chief executive Dan Hart told staff that the furlough would buy Virgin Orbit time to finalise a new investment plan.

A statement from the company said: “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.”

Louis Gardner, cabinet member for economy at Cornwall Council, said: “It is clearly a difficult time for the Virgin Orbit team as they navigate the next stage of their company, and we will await further information from them as events unfold.

“Our focus at Spaceport Cornwall is to continue to grow the space cluster in Cornwall, alongside progressing relationships with spaceflight operators.

“We remain the only licensed spaceport in the UK and our plan is to build on that position.”

In January’s launch, a jumbo jet operated by Virgin Orbit carried a rocket out of Newquay to release it high over the Atlantic Ocean.

The rocket ignited and appeared to be ascending correctly, but later suffered an “anomaly”.

The satellites it was carrying could not be released and were lost. Cosmic Girl, the carrier 747 jet, returned safely to base.

Virgin Orbit later said the mission had failed because a rocket fuel filter had become dislodged, causing one of the engines to overheat.

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