Virgin Orbit ceases operations and lays off 85 percent of its workforce

Virgin Orbit, the satellite-launching subsidiary of Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, has announced that it will lay off 85 percent of its workforce and is ceasing operations “for the foreseeable future.” The company, which aimed to provide a more affordable option for launching small satellites into orbit, had been struggling to secure funding to stay afloat and compete with larger players in the private space industry like SpaceX and Blue Origin.

Just 100 employees remain at Virgin Orbit, with 675 roles to be cut by April 3rd

According to a regulatory filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, Virgin Orbit will end all operations immediately and lay off 675 positions across every department. Layoffs are expected to be complete by April 3rd, leaving just 100 employees remaining at the company. Virgin Orbit will pay approximately $15 million in severance payments and other costs related to winding down the business, paid for by a cash injection of $10.9 million from Branson’s investment arm, Virgin Investments (as reported by the Financial Times).

“Unfortunately, we’ve not been able to secure the funding to provide a clear path for this company. We have no choice but to implement immediate, dramatic, and extremely painful changes,” said Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart, according to meeting audio obtained by CNBC. Hart described the meeting as “probably the hardest all-hands that we’ve ever done in my life.”

The announcement comes two weeks after Virgin Orbit paused operations and furloughed nearly all its workforce on March 15th while the company attempted to secure additional investment. The satellite launch company disclosed an operating loss of $50.5 million in its last quarterly earnings report, and Branson’s Virgin Group has reportedly injected $60 million to keep the business afloat since November. 

Virgin Orbit emerged as an offshoot of Branson’s space tourism company Virgin Galactic in 2017. Unlike rival companies like SpaceX that launch heavy rockets from the ground, Virgin Orbit launched its LauncherOne two-stage rocket from midair, carried to a height of 35,000 feet by a converted Boeing 747 dubbed Cosmic Girl. It has carried out six total missions since 2020, with four successful launches and two failures.

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