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Virgin Orbit still seeking cash injection so its rockets can fly again

The future of Virgin Orbit is hanging in the balance as it continues to seek a cash injection to avoid bankruptcy.

The California-based company has been trying to make a success of its satellite-launch business, but suffered a major setback in January when a launch attempt in the U.K. ended in failure.

If an investor isn’t found, bankruptcy could come as soon as this week, CNBC reported on Monday.

One potential buyer reportedly “balked” at a potential sale price of $200 million, though others are said to also be in talks with the company.

Virgin Orbit’s struggles first came to light last week when it furloughed all 750 of its staff while it looked for a backer. The company is declining to comment on the reported talks, though people familiar with the matter said that Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart and other senior leadership were in discussions throughout the weekend with potential investors.

Virgin Orbit was spun out of Virgin Galactic in 2017, but its largest shareholder, Virgin founder Richard Branson, is reportedly reluctant to give it more funds after reportedly having already sunk more than $1 billion into the venture it since November 2022.

In its battle to survive, Virgin Orbit it also working with Alvarez & Marsal (A&M) and Ducera, two restructuring firms, regarding a backup plan in case it fails to secure new funding, Sky News reported on Sunday.

Following its launch mishap in January, the company had reportedly been hoping to attempt another mission in the coming weeks, but such an effort seems highly unlikely under the current circumstances.

Virgin Orbit’s flight system uses a modified Boeing 747 aircraft with a rocket under a wing to launch small satellites to orbit for private businesses and governments. An advantage of Virgin Orbit’s air-launch capability over rivals such as SpaceX and RocketLab is that it can get airborne from pretty much any location that has a runway without the need for expensive infrastructure. It can also operate in poor weather conditions that might delay a ground-based launch.

Virgin Orbit has completed four successful missions to date, all launching from the Mojave Air and Space Port in the California desert. The first took place in January 2021, while the most recent one was in July 2022.

But the rocket launched in January’s mission failed to reach orbit, resulting in the loss of nine small satellites for a number of commercial customers. The likely cause was a fuel filter that was “dislodged from its normal position” inside part of the rocket’s fuel line, Virgin Orbit said last month.

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Trevor Mogg
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