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Virgin Orbit to Sell Assets to Rocket Lab, Launcher, and Stratolaunch in Bankruptcy Deal

By Rachel Jewett | May 23, 2023
      Virgin Orbit's Long Beach manufacturing facility in May 2020. Photo: Virgin Orbit/Greg Robinson.

      Virgin Orbit’s Long Beach manufacturing facility in May 2020. Photo: Virgin Orbit/Greg Robinson.

      Rocket Lab, Launcher, and Stratolaunch have won bids to purchase assets from Virgin Orbit, according to bankruptcy filings released Tuesday. The auction took place on May 22, and the sale hearing took place Wednesday afternoon in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware.

      Virgin Orbit will cease operations with the sale.

      Rocket Lab is the successful bidder for Virgin Orbit’s factory in Long Beach, California, including the machinery, equipment, and lease. The smallsat launcher bid $16.1 million for the 144,000+ square foot factory on Conant Street. 

      Rocket Lab said in a statement that the sale does not include any Virgin Orbit launch vehicles, and Rocket Lab will not be integrating Virgin Orbit’s air-launch system with the company’s offerings. Rocket Lab plans to use the facility to advance Neutron rocket production.

      “This transaction represents a capital expenditure savings opportunity to augment our production capability to bring Neutron to the launch pad quickly to serve our customers and their future success. Securing the lease to the Conant Facility adds to our existing presence in Long Beach and provides co-located engineering, manufacturing, and test capabilities for our Neutron team,” CEO Peter Beck said in a statement.

      Launcher Inc., which is developing rockets and orbital transfer vehicles, is the successful bidder for the facility in Mojave, California, including the lease, machinery, equipment, and inventory, for $2.7 million. Launcher is owned by commercial space station company Vast

      Stratolaunch, which designs hypersonic vehicles, is the successful bidder for Cosmic Girl, a modified Boeing 747 that was used in Virgin Orbit’s air-launch method. It is a $17 million stalking horse bid. Stratolaunch is developing air-launch technologies for hypersonic vehicles. 

      There is also a provisional deal for liquidation firm Inliper to acquire equipment for $650,000.

      Virgin Orbit filed for bankruptcy in early April, and previously indicated it had received multiple bids that would continue operating the company. The company laid off most of its employees in late March.

      “Management and employees would like to extend their heartfelt gratitude to all stakeholders, including customers, partners, investors, and employees, for their support and dedication over the years,” Virgin Orbit said in a statement on the sale. “It is through their collective efforts that the Company has been able to achieve significant milestones and make lasting contributions to the advancement of satellite launch in the United States and the United Kingdom. Virgin Orbit’s legacy in the space industry will forever be remembered. Its groundbreaking technologies, relentless pursuit of excellence, and unwavering commitment to advancing the frontiers of air launch have left an indelible mark on the industry.”

      All together, the bids total about $36.5 million. The company’s 2021 special purpose acquisition (SPAC) deal valued Virgin Orbit at $3.2 billion.

      The company was founded in 2017, spun out of human spaceflight company Virgin Galactic, then owned by Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and Aabar Investments PJS. Virgin Galactic is still operational and preparing for a crewed mission with a launch window opening on Thursday, which will be its last mission with only company specialists onboard before starting commercial service.

      Virgin Orbit made history by validating LauncherOne, the first orbital class, air-launched, liquid-fueled rocket to successfully reach space. In the air launch system, a modified jet carrying the LauncherOne rocket takes off from a standard airplane runway. The rocket is then dropped from the jet in air, and proceeds to ignite and complete its mission. This method is fairly unique in the launch industry and otherwise only used by Northrop Grumman’s Pegasus launch vehicle. The company had four successful missions, deploying 33 satellites, and also had plans to expand launch service and commercial spaceports around the globe.

      The company’s stock slid after the January launch failure that was supposed to be the first orbital satellite launch from the U.K., and the company was unable to secure additional financing.

      This story has been updated after initial publication with additional information