Richard Branson’s space ambitions take a big hit with the bankruptcy and now liquidation of his Virgin Orbit satellite launch business

The Virgin Orbit "Cosmic Girl" - a modified Boeing Co. 747-400.
Patrick T. Fallon—AFP/Getty Images

Stratolaunch and Rocket Lab USA are among the buyers for assets of Virgin Orbit, the bankrupt space-launch company tied to billionaire Richard Branson.

Virgin Orbit will sell its modified Boeing 747, known as Cosmic Girl, to Stratolaunch for $17 million after no better bids emerged, according to bankruptcy court papers filed Tuesday. Meanwhile, Rocket Lab USA is buying Virgin Orbit’s primary rocket factory in California for $16.1 million. 

The piecemeal sale indicates no adequate bids emerged for the whole of Virgin Orbit during an auction. Launcher is set to buy a test facility for $2.7 million, court papers show. Vast Space announced a deal recently to acquire Launcher.

The deals, which total more than $35 million, are subject to bankruptcy court approval. 

Virgin Orbit did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Virgin Orbit has been exploring options including a possible sale since filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in early April. 

Founded by Branson as an offshoot of his space-tourism venture Virgin Galactic Holdings, Virgin Orbit focused on sending small satellites to space on its LauncherOne rocket. The vehicle is designed to take off not from the ground but from underneath the wing of its Cosmic Girl jet. Virgin Orbit had successfully flown to orbit four times since 2021. It went public via a reverse merger in late 2021.

The company suffered a high-profile failure in January 2023, when its LauncherOne rocket malfunctioned during a mission and failed to reach orbit, causing the loss of all nine satellites on board. The mission, which took off from Spaceport Cornwall in the UK, was meant to be the first orbital launch to take place from British soil.

Low on cash in mid-March, Virgin Orbit furloughed almost its entire staff during an all-hands meeting as the company searched for a financial lifeline. The company attempted to start some limited operations roughly a week later, as executives negotiated with Texas-based venture capital investor Matthew Brown to potentially inject $200 million into the company.

That deal never materialized, though, and Virgin Orbit wound up ceasing operations entirely at the end of March.

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