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Virgin Orbit has Raised $1 Billion, Needs $200 Million More

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
October 31, 2020
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LauncherOne operated in powered flight for only seconds before an anomaly shut it down after being dropped from the Cosmic Girl Boeing 747. (Credit; Virgin Orbit)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit satellite launch company needs another $200 million in investment after having already raised $1 billion.

So said the British billionaire during The Wall Street Journal’s recent Tech Live conference. The amount raised is considerably larger than a previous estimate of $700 million.

Virgin Orbit has developed LauncherOne, which ignites after being dropped over the ocean from a modified Boeing 747 jetliner.

The first launch attempt failed four seconds into powered flight in May. Virgin Orbit is planning to try again by the end of the year.

The news of how much Virgin Orbit is spending to reach orbit sparked a surprised reaction from Peter Beck, founder and CEO of rival Rocket Lab. He tweeted that his company had spent

Less than $100m on development and a total of $180m to date including building 3 launch pads, 4 acres of production facilities, 2 mission controls, 14 flights and accounting for my mission to Venus

Branson’s admission raises questions about whether Virgin Orbit can ever make back the money invested in it by orbiting small satellites for a base price of $12 million per flight. It’s unclear how much of that price will be profit for Virgin Orbit.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Branson’s vision for Virgin orbit remains expansive despite the enormous cost of getting to orbit.

Mr. Branson said the company could envision having five or six of those planes stationed around the world, with rockets ready to rapidly launch satellites into precise orbits maximized for individual customers. For military customers, that could mean positioning replacement spacecraft within a day or two of potential hostile action by an adversary….

Virgin Orbit, the satellite-launch company, meanwhile hopes to carve out a niche based on its flexibility. With companies and governments planning massive constellations of low-flying satellites for everything from global broadband access to earth imaging to spy spacecraft, Virgin Orbit says it will be able to blast payloads into orbit from its reconfigured Boeing  Co. 747 jumbo jet with a single day’s notice. Traditional rocket launches to transport satellites take months or longer to schedule.

“We’re working on a completely different approach,” Dan Hart, Virgin Orbit’s chief executive, said. “There is a huge opportunity here” current rivals can’t tap, he told the virtual conference.

Needless to say, with the first launch failing and the company in need of a cash infusion, there is a lot riding on the next launch attempt.