Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit has temporarily put all operations on hold while the company looks to secure additional funding.
The move follows on from the failed first launch of its satellite mission from UK soil back in January. In a statement, the company confirmed: “Virgin Orbit is initiating a company-wide operational pause, effective (from) March 16, 2023, and anticipates providing an update on go-forward operations in the coming weeks.” There have been reports that staff at Virgin Orbit have been furloughed, but the company has yet to confirm this.
The January mission would have seen nine small satellites launched from SpacePort Newquay in South-West Cornwall, UK. Owing to an “anomaly” with a fuel filter that became dislodged during the launch sequence, the LauncherOne rocket failed to reach orbit. While all the rocket components fell back to earth, all nine satellites were lost.
A spokesperson said on Thursday: “On the ops side, our investigation is nearly complete and our next production rocket with the needed modification incorporated is in final stages of integration and test.”
Councillor Louis Gardner, of Cornwall Council, who is in charge of the county’s economy, 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.”
Virgin Orbit is a company within the Virgin Group which provides launch services for small satellites. The company was formed in 2017 to develop the air-launched LauncherOne rocket, launched from a modified Boeing 747 aircraft named Cosmic Girl; this tandem had previously been a project of Virgin Galactic.