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Richard Branson’s rocket firm Virgin Orbit files for bankruptcy

Sir Richard Branson’s rocket company Virgin Orbit has filed for bankruptcy in the US after failing to secure new investment.

The satellite launch company halted operations weeks ago but it hopes to find a buyer for the business.

The company, based in California, announced last week that it would cut 85% of its 750-strong workforce.

Earlier this year, a Virgin Orbit rocket failed to complete its first-ever satellite launch from UK soil.

Virgin Orbit’s boss Dan Hart said that although the company had “taken great efforts” to address its finances and secure more funding, “we ultimately must do what is best for the business.”

He said that Virgin Orbit will now concentrate on finding a buyer for the business “to provide clarity on the future of the company to its customers, vendors, and employees”.

Virgin Orbit was founded in 2017 and is a spin-off from Sir Richard’s space tourism company Virgin Galactic.

It launches rockets from beneath modified Boeing 747 planes to send satellites into space.

But in January, an attempt to send a satellite into orbit from the UK for the first time failed because a rocket fuel filter had become dislodged, causing one of the engines to overheat.

/The mission, which launched from the Spaceport Cornwall which is based near Newquay, had been billed as a milestone for UK space exploration.

It was hoped it would mark a major step in helping to turn the UK into a global player – from manufacturing satellites to building rockets and creating new spaceports.

Virgin Orbit, which is mostly owned by Virgin Group, scrambled to find new funding following the UK rocket failure and paused operations last month to conserve cash.

The company, which listed its shares on New York’s Nasdaq index in 2021, had debts of $153.5m (£123m) as of September last year.

On Tuesday, the company said one of its sister companies – Virgin Investments – would provide $31.6m in new money to help Virgin Orbit through the process of finding a buyer.

It has filed for what is known as Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the US. This allows a business to keep operating and address its financial issues while providing protection against creditors who are owed money.

Melissa Quinn, head of Spaceport Cornwall, said the news about Virgin Orbit was “very sad” but said the site would will “remain focused on furthering the international space industry”.

She said it is the only licensed spaceport in the UK, has multiple users and is working with other launch operators, such as US company Sierra Space.

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Richard Branson’s rocket firm Virgin Orbit files for bankruptcy

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