Bankrupt Virgin Orbit Sells Scraps at Auction, Including Its Big Plane

Bankrupt Virgin Orbit Sells Scraps at Auction, Including Its Big Plane

The ongoing saga of Virgin Orbit’s ongoing crash and burn appears to have finally come to an end. Assets from the satellite launch company, founded by British entrepreneur Richard Branson, have officially been sold off at auction, with some major spaceflight players picking up the crumbs.

After facing several blows, Virgin Orbit announced in April that it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and was seeking a wholesale buyer. With no luck, the company announced last night in a press release that it would be selling its assets piecemeal to four of the highest bidders and subsequently cease operations entirely.

While Virgin Orbit’s statement doesn’t explicitly mention which companies bought off its assets, launch service provider Rocket Lab announced yesterday that the company is purchasing Virgin Orbit’s 144,000 square foot manufacturing space — and some of the equipment held there — in Long Beach, California, for $US16.1 ($22) million. Similarly, Launcher, a recently acquired subsidiary of Vast Space, will purchase the Virgin Orbit manufacturing space in Mojave, California, for $US2.7 ($4) million, according to CNBC. The outlet also reported that liquidation company Inliper will purchase Virgin Orbit’s office equipment for $US650,000 ($902,330).

Rocket Lab will purchase Virgin Orbit's 144,000 square foot headquarters in Long Beach, California. (Image: Sipa, AP)
Rocket Lab will purchase Virgin Orbit’s 144,000 square foot headquarters in Long Beach, California. (Image: Sipa, AP)

Virgin Orbit plans to sell its crown jewel Cosmic Girl, a Boeing 747 turned rocket launcher, to Stratolaunch for $US17 ($24) million. Stratolaunch is the company behind the world’s largest plane, and utilises aircraft to launch rockets much the way Virgin Orbit planned to do with Cosmic Girl. When using the modified Boeing 747 as a rocket launcher, Virgin Orbit tucked a LauncherOne rocket beneath its left wing before launching the rocket when the aircraft reached its target high altitude. During a failed mission earlier this year, Cosmic Girl emerged unscathed, while the LauncherOne rocket crashed, apparently, due to a faulty $US100 ($139) filter.

Related: How Virgin Orbit Went Bankrupt

“As Virgin Orbit embarks on this path, the management and employees would like to extend their heartfelt gratitude to all stakeholders, including customers, partners, investors, and employees, for their support and dedication over the years,” the company said in a collective statement published in its press release. “It is through their collective efforts that the Company has been able to achieve significant milestones and make lasting contributions to the advancement of satellite launch in the United States and the United Kingdom.”

While its sibling company Virgin Galactic is facing its own issues, the writing has, unfortunately, been on the wall for Virgin Orbit for some time now. Virgin Investments Limited pumped $US55 ($76) million into Virgin Orbit across three cash injections since November 2022 according to a February 1 filing with the SEC this year, painting a portrait of a company strapped for cash. In March, Virgin Orbit suspended its operations and furloughed most staff while trying to secure an investor to bail it out of its financial woes. After nearly closing on a $US200 ($278) million rescue deal from Matthew Brown — an investment offer that may have been disingenuousVirgin Orbit extended the staff furlough and continued pausing its operations before announcing in April that it was filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Virgin Orbit may be gone, but at least Branson can cheer on Virgin Galactic. The space tourism company is set to resume its suborbital flights to space, with a crewed demo scheduled for Thursday, May 25.

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Editor’s Note: Release dates within this article are based in the U.S., but will be updated with local Australian dates as soon as we know more.

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