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Virgin Orbit Auctions Off Assets to Rocket Lab, Launcher, and Stratolaunch

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
May 23, 2023
Filed under , , , , ,
Virgin Orbit Auctions Off Assets to Rocket Lab, Launcher, and Stratolaunch
Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket ignites moments after being released by carrier aircraft Cosmic Girl for the company’s Launch Demo 2 mission. January 17th, 2021.
Image credit: Virgin Orbit.

Richard Branson’s bankrupt launch provider Virgin Orbit (OTCMKTS: VORBQ), which spent more than $1 billion developing the capability to launch satellites from a Boeing 747 jumbo jet, auctioned off its assets to Rocket Lab, Launcher, Stratolaunch, and a fourth company called INLIPER for just under $36.5 million on Monday, according to a court filing.

Launch provider and satellite manufacturer Rocket Lab bid $16.1 million in the auction for Virgin Orbit’s headquarters and launch vehicle manufacturing facility in Long Beach, California. Rocket Lab’s headquarters and production facility are also located in Long Beach.

Virgin Orbit Asset Bids

BidderAssetsAsset LocationAmount
INLIPER Acquisition and Liquidity
Services Operations (Provisional)
Payload processing machinery and equipmentLong Beach, Calif.$650,000
LauncherEngine test facility lease, machinery & equipment, and inventoryMojave, Calif.$2,700,000
Rocket Lab USALaunch vehicle production machinery & equipment and building leaseLong Beach, Calif.$16,118,684
StratolaunchBeing 747 Cosmic Girl & related assetsLong Beach, Calif.$17,000,000

Stratolaunch bid $17 million for the Boeing 747 Cosmic Girl, which Virgin Orbit used to air launch satellites using the LauncherOne booster. Stratolaunch, which is headquartered at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California, operates a large, dual-fuselage aircraft named Roc to air launch hypersonic vehicles.

Launcher, which is a propulsion company, bid $2.7 million for Virgin Orbit’s engine test facilities and equipment at the Mojave spaceport. Launcher has its headquarters in Hawthorne, California. In February, the company was acquired by Vast, a California company that earlier this month announced plans to launch a private space station in 2025.

Virgin Orbit also has a provisional agreement to sell payload processing machinery and equipment to INLIPER Acquisition and Liquidity Services Operations for $650,000. The sale is subject to the finalization of documentation, the court filing said.

Virgin Orbit's Boeing 747 Cosmic Girl
Cosmic Girl Boeing 747. Image credit Virgin Orbit.

Virgin Orbit elected not to continue the auction for inventory at its payload processing and headquarters and manufacturing facilities in Long Beach.

“Accordingly, no Successful Bidder or Next-Highest Bidder has been selected for such Assets at this time. Further, the Debtors reserve all rights to exercise their business judgment and fiduciary duties with respect to the Assets,” the company said in its filing.

The United States Bankruptcy Court in Delaware will hold a sales hearing on Wednesday, May 24 at 2 PM EDT.

Branson’s Virgin Group owns around 75 percent of the company. Mubadala, a sovereign wealth fund that invests money for the government of Abu Dhabi, owns a 17.9 percent stake in Virgin Orbit.

Virgin Orbit had struggled for years with growing operational losses, failed launches, a low flight cadence, and tepid investor interest before declaring bankruptcy on April 4.

LauncherOne failed on its maiden flight in May 2020 when a propellant line broke seconds after the first-stage engine ignited. Virgin Galactic successfully launched two times in 2021.

Virgin Orbit went public on the NASDAQ stock exchange on Dec. 30, 2021, through a merger with NextGen Acquisition Corp, a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC). A SPAC is an investment fund already traded on a stock exchange whose main purpose is to merge with a company, which is then taken public under its own name.

The SPAC merger raised only $228 million in new funds, which was less than half the $483 million Virgin Orbit and NextGen expected to raise.

The company had hoped to launch as many as six times in 2022. However, it only managed two launches last year as losses piled up and cash reserves dwindled.

Branson’s Virgin Investments Ltd. (VIL) put $25 million into the launch provider in November and $20 million in December. During that period, Virgin Orbit said it would not sell additional stock to the public due to poor market conditions.

LauncherOne failed again in January 2023 during a launch that originated from the Cornwall Newquay Airport in England. The much-publicized flight was to have been the first successful orbital launch from the United Kingdom.

VIL would invest an additional $15 million into Virgin Orbit in February and March 2023 to keep the struggling company afloat. Virgin Orbit furloughed nearly its entire staff in mid-March to reduce expenses as it searched for a financial lifeline. After those efforts failed, the company laid off all but 100 of its 775 employees before declaring bankruptcy on April 4.

The idea of air launching satellites originated at Virgin Orbit’s sister company, Virgin Galactic, during the 2000s. The original plan was to use the WhiteKnightTwo aircraft that is used to launch SpaceShipTwo suborbital space planes. The company subsequently switched to developing a larger rocket that would be dropped from a modified Boeing 747. Virgin Orbit spun off as a separate company in 2017.

The entire court filing is below.

2 responses to “Virgin Orbit Auctions Off Assets to Rocket Lab, Launcher, and Stratolaunch”

  1. Christopher Larkins says:

    Rocket Lab comes out the big winner in this one. Not only do they get a huge manufacturing center, but all the tools, and 3D printers as well. Plus it is right across the street from their building. Win/Win.

  2. Thomas Matula says:

    The sad end of a bad idea.

    What is surprising is the huge number of folks on the payroll. No wonder their burn rate was so high.

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