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Virgin Orbit rocket company shuts down

Rocket company Virgin Orbit has officially shut down after it failed to find a buyer to save its satellite-launch business.

Virgin Orbit paused operations and furloughed all 750 of its workers in March as it tried to secure funding. It also started to sell off its assets, including the modified jet that launched its rockets to space, but it wasn’t enough to save the six-year-old project.

Virgin Orbit rocket
Virgin Orbit

“As Virgin Orbit embarks on this path, the 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,” the company said in a statement shared on Wednesday. “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 U.S. and U.K.”

The flight system created by the California-based company deployed a converted Boeing 747 aircraft with a rocket under a wing for launching small satellites to orbit for private businesses and governments.

Hoping to one day compete with the likes of SpaceX and Rocket Lab, Virgin Orbit’s system offered a special advantage over its rivals in that it was able to get airborne from any place with a runway, without the need for expensive infrastructure. It could also conduct missions in poor weather conditions that might otherwise hamper conventional rocket launches.

But slow progress and difficulties in finding funding ultimately ended the dream for Virgin Orbit.

The company only completed four successful missions in its six-year history — the first in January 2021 and the most recent one in July 2022 — while its last bid, from the U.K. in January, ended in failure with the loss of the customers’ payloads.

“Virgin Orbit’s legacy in the space industry will forever be remembered,” the company said in its statement. “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.”

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