Virgin Orbit, the satellite launch company founded by British billionaire Richard Branson, permanently ceased operations last month, following a major mission failure in January at a time when it was already facing financial headwinds.
Virgin Orbit announced last week it is pausing operations after sustained financial losses, furloughing most of the company’s approximately 750 employees as officials seek funding to keep the small satellite launch provider afloat.
An air-launched rocket built by Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit reached orbit Sunday for the first time, delivering 10 experimental CubeSats for NASA and positioning the company for the start of commercial operations.
On its second launch attempt after a propulsion problem prevented its light-class air-dropped rocket from reaching space last year, Virgin Orbit will try to deliver 10 experimental CubeSats into orbit as soon as Sunday on a mission booked by NASA five years ago for $4.7 million.
Virgin Orbit and Rocket Lab teams are gearing up for their first missions of the year in the coming days, with Virgin’s air-launched rocket set for its second demonstration flight and Rocket Lab’s Electron booster poised to launch a small German-owned communications satellite.
Leading all other nations, U.S. launch providers flew 44 missions in 2020 that aimed to place payloads in Earth orbit or deep space, with 40 successes. China followed with 35 successful orbital missions in 39 launch attempts.
The U.S. military said this week it plans to award rideshare small satellite launch contracts to six U.S. companies using funds appropriated to help stabilize the defense industrial base amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Making its first flight, a privately-funded air-launched rocket developed and built by Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit failed to reach space Monday after release from the company’s modified 747 carrier airplane over the Pacific Ocean.
Virgin Orbit is setting modest expectations ahead of the company’s first attempt to reach orbit with a liquid-fueled air-launched rocket, emphasizing a hunger for flight data on the test launch, which could occur as soon as Monday off the coast of Southern California.