Virgin Orbit said Thursday it is pausing all operations amid reports the company is furloughing almost all its staff as part of a bid to seek a funding lifeline.
The U.S.-based satellite launch company confirmed it’s putting all work on hold, but didn’t say how long the freeze would last.
“Virgin Orbit is initiating a companywide operational pause, effective March 16, 2023, and anticipates providing an update on go-forward operations in the coming weeks,” the company said in a statement.
The company didn’t comment on reports from media outlets including Reuters and CNBC that all but a small number of workers will be temporarily put on unpaid furlough.
Virgin Orbit, which is listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange, was founded in 2017 by British billionaire Richard Branson to target the market for launching small satellites into space. Its LauncherOne rockets are launched from the air from modified Virgin passenger planes, allowing the company to operate more flexibly than using fixed launch sites.
In January, a mission by Virgin Orbit to launch the first satellites into orbit from Europe failed after its LauncherOne rocket’s upper stage experienced “an anomaly” that caused it to prematurely shut down, according to the company’s website. The failure was a disappointment for Virgin Orbit and British space officials, who had high hopes that the launch would mark the beginning of more commercial opportunities for the U.K. space industry.
The 747 “Cosmic Girl” jet — a repurposed Virgin Atlantic passenger jet, with the 70-foot-long 57,000-pound LauncherOne rocket tucked under its left wing — took off on January 9 from Cornwall Airport Newquay near Britain’s southwest coast in what had been billed as the first orbital launch from the United Kingdom and western Europe.
After a successful climb into space, Cosmic Girl successfully released LauncherOne, but the rocket experienced a problem before reaching orbit.
The company said last month that an investigation into the failure found that its rocket’s fuel filter had become dislodged, causing an engine to become overheated and other components to malfunction. The nine small satellites it carried fell back to Earth and landed in the Atlantic Ocean.
“Our investigation is nearly complete and our next production rocket with the needed modification incorporated is in final stages of integration and test,” Virgin Orbit said in its statement Thursday.
The investigation includes oversight by regulators in the U.S. and the U.K., including the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and the U.K. Air Accidents Investigation Branch, according to the Virgin Orbit site.
The company has said that its next launch will take place from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California for a commercial customer. It hasn’t provided a date.