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Virgin Orbit to Lay off Majority of Workers and Cease Operations, Citing Funding Woes

Virgin Orbit, the rocket company founded by billionaire Richard Branson, is laying off the majority of its workers, citing an inability to secure future funding. The layoffs will affect around 85% of Virgin Orbit's workforce, with approximately 675 employees set to lose their jobs, according to a public filing submitted Thursday with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

The company is also ceasing operations "for the foreseeable future," according to CEO Dan Hart, who reportedly informed employees of the decision during an all-hands meeting on Thursday. The move comes just two months after Virgin Orbit's first LauncherOne mission launched from Spaceport Cornwall in England encountered an "anomaly" and was unable to reach orbit, leading to a significant drop in Virgin Orbit's share price.

Picture: Kumaon Jagran
The Virgin Orbit Launcher One rocket in its hanger in Newquay, England

Virgin Orbit was founded by Branson in 2017 as a spinoff of Virgin Galactic and jumped into the commercial space ring in 2021, using modified 747 carrier aircraft to launch LauncherOne rockets from the air, carrying satellites into orbit. The company has completed five successful LauncherOne missions carrying government and private company payloads, but the UK launch was the first to fail to deliver its payload.

The layoffs at Virgin Orbit could mark a concerning moment for the UK Space Agency and its National Space Strategy, which calls for the construction of more spaceports in Scotland and Wales. The UK space sector income grew by almost £1 billion in 2021, with employment up almost 1,800 more jobs across the UK space sector. With 675 Virgin Orbit employees set to lose their jobs, however, this represents a significant dip in growth.

The company's decision to cease operations for the foreseeable future underscores the challenges facing commercial space companies, particularly those seeking to enter the market with innovative new technologies. In recent years, a number of new players have emerged in the space industry, including SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic, all of which are seeking to revolutionize space travel and exploration.

However, these companies face significant challenges in securing funding, as well as in developing the necessary technology to launch rockets and other spacecraft. With Virgin Orbit now facing significant layoffs and uncertainty about its future, it remains to be seen how the company will adapt and evolve in the face of these challenges.

For employees affected by the layoffs, Virgin Orbit has said it will provide a severance package and point people to hiring opportunities at Virgin Galactic. Nonetheless, the news is likely to be a blow to those who had been working on the company's ambitious LauncherOne project, and to the wider space industry as a whole.

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