Why has Virgin Orbit shut down and what will happen to UK spaceports?

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Virgin Orbit's grounded motorboat successful January was nan commencement of nan extremity for nan company, which has now sold disconnected its assets and unopen down for good. But what does this mean for Richard Branson's different abstraction firm, Virgin Galactic?

By Matthew Sparkes

Virgin Orbit

Cosmic Girl and LauncherOne

Virgin Orbit

Virgin Orbit, a abstraction start-up founded by UK entrepreneur Richard Branson, has been unopen down. Here’s what you request to know.

Why has Virgin Orbit unopen down?

The firm’s troubles began pinch a failed mission successful January, which was owed to beryllium nan first-ever orbital motorboat from nan UK. Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket had been carrying 9 satellites, including hardware for nan US National Reconnaissance Office, but grounded to scope orbit.

This setback – contempt coming aft a drawstring of successful launches – caused its stock value to fall, making it intolerable for nan institution to unafraid much funding, and it started to suffer cash-flow problems. The institution had ne'er reached profitability.

Eventually, it was forced to laic disconnected 85 per cent of its unit – astir 675 group – successful March. The institution limped connected pinch a mini team, looking astatine various options to stay afloat. But this effort yet grounded and nan institution has now revenge for bankruptcy, sold its assets and unopen down for good.

The closure marks a accelerated descent for a institution that publically listed connected nan Nasdaq banal speech precocious successful 2021 pinch a valuation of $3.7 billion.

Why did Virgin Orbit’s UK motorboat fail?

The company’s modified 747-400 pitchy Cosmic Girl took disconnected from Spaceport Cornwall carrying nan LauncherOne rocket nether its wing. Once airborne, nan rocket dropped distant to occurrence its first shape and successfully accelerated to astir 12,900 kilometres per hour. When nan 2nd shape kicked in, it reached 28,000 kilometres per hour, but wrong minutes nan launcher “suffered an anomaly” and had to abort.

Last month, nan institution announced that nan culprit, which became dislodged and made its measurement into nan Newton-4 upper-stage engine, was a substance select – a $100 part. Virgin Orbit said that a fix had been found and that it was being built into nan adjacent rocket – which we now cognize nan institution will ne'er launch.

What will hap to its equipment?

Rival motorboat institution Rocket Lab has bought Virgin Orbit’s headquarters, rocket mill and instrumentality for a reported $16.1 million. Cosmic Girl has been sold to Stratolaunch Systems, shaper of nan world’s largest craft – itself designed to motorboat rockets – for only $17 million. Space institution Launcher bought Virgin Orbit’s motorboat tract successful nan Mojave desert, California.

In all, Virgin Orbit’s assets brought successful just $36.4 million – astir 1 per cent of its erstwhile valuation. None of nan 3 companies buying assets responded to New Scientist’s petition for comment.

A statement from Virgin Orbit said: “Virgin Orbit’s bequest successful nan abstraction manufacture will everlastingly beryllium remembered.”

What does this mean for Virgin Galactic?

Virgin Galactic is simply a abstracted institution to Virgin Orbit, nan second being a 2017 spin-out from nan former. While Orbit was focused connected launching mini satellites, Galactic’s purpose is providing space tourism flights utilizing its trade SpaceShipTwo, which itself launches from a larger airplane mid-flight.

Both are part-owned by Richard Branson, and Virgin Galactic will proceed to run unaffected. The institution is readying nan last trial formation of its VSS Unity craft connected 25 May, earlier a first commercialized motorboat carrying abstraction visitors adjacent month. Virgin Galactic didn’t respond to a petition for interview, but investors look confident that a successful formation will mean nan institution tin commencement carrying retired flights that customers person already bought and paid for.

What does this mean for UK abstraction launches?

The UK Space Agency is backing 3 spaceports successful nan UK: SaxaVord Spaceport successful nan Shetland Islands, Space Hub Sutherland successful Scotland and Spaceport Cornwall, from wherever Virgin Orbit’s grounded January ngo took off.

Currently, Spaceport Cornwall still lists nan now defunct Virgin Orbit arsenic its sole customer, but says that “other motorboat operators whitethorn besides statesman launching”. However, it has nary vertical motorboat accommodation and tin only support companies that motorboat rockets hung nether aircraft. SaxaVord Spaceport is moving towards its first launch, and Space Hub Sutherland is nether construction.


Source Science