Richard Branson's Virgin Orbit pauses all operations and furloughs most staff

Richard Branson’s satellite launch company Virgin Orbit has paused operations, the company said, amid reports that it is working to secure additional funding.

The news comes after the California-based company, failed in its first–ever satellite mission from UK soil in January.

‘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,’ said the company in a statement.

On Wednesday, employees were told at an all-staff meeting that the remainder of the workforce will be put on unpaid furlough, although employees can cash in annual leave.

The company’s chief executive, Dan Hart, told staff that putting them on furlough would buy time to finalise a new investment plan, Reuters reported. Staff are expected to be updated next week.

Virgin Orbit had been set to launch nine small satellites out of Spaceport Cornwall, in Newquay, but its LauncherOne rocket suffered an error during flight and never reached orbit.

Although the LauncherOne rocket carried the payload successfully detached from the modified Boeing 747 that took off from Cornwall, it didn’t make it to space.

It ignited and appeared to be ascending according to plan, but then word came from Virgin Orbit, the American company operating the launch, that it had suffered an ‘anomaly’.

While the 747 – known as ‘Cosmic Girl’ – returned to Cornwall, the rocket itself and the shoebox-sized satellites it was carrying, were lost.

Virgin Orbit blamed the accident on a fuel filter that became dislodged during the launch, which caused an engine to overheat.

‘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,’ a spokesperson said on Thursday.

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