Virgin Orbit ceasing operations 'for the foreseeable future:' report

747 airplane dropping a small rocket with the curve of earth within view
Virgin Orbit's Boeing 747 carrier plane Cosmic Girl photographed releasing the company's LauncherOne rocket during a July 2019 drop test. (Image credit: Virgin Orbit/Greg Robinson)

Virgin Orbit is ceasing operations "for the foreseeable future" and laying off about 90% of its workforce, according to CNBC.

Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart announced the news during an all-hands meeting of the company on Thursday afternoon (March 30), CNBC's Michael Sheetz reported.

"Unfortunately, we've not been able to secure the funding to provide a clear path for this company," Hart said Thursday, according to Sheetz, who obtained audio of the meeting. "We have no choice but to implement immediate, dramatic and extremely painful changes."

Related: Failed Virgin Orbit launch leaves open opportunity for UK as a space 'underdog'

Virgin Orbit has been trying for weeks to battle through a tough financial situation. The company, part of billionaire Richard Branson's Virgin Group, paused operations and furloughed most of its employees on March 15 while it tried to secure enough funding to move forward. 

About a week ago, the company seemed close to snagging a lifeline, in the form of a $200 million investment from Texas-based venture capitalist Matthew Brown. But that deal apparently fell through.

Adding to Virgin Orbit's difficulties was the failure of its most recent launch, from Spaceport Cornwall in England on Jan. 9, which resulted in the loss of nine satellites. The company traced the anomaly to a fuel filter in the upper stage of its 70-foot-long (21 meters) LauncherOne rocket. The fuel filter was knocked loose during the flight, a failure investigation determined.

Prior to the Jan. 9 mission, which aimed to be the first successful orbital launch ever to take off from the United Kingdom, Virgin Orbit had enjoyed four straight successful missions. Together, those flights delivered a total of 33 satellites to orbit.

LauncherOne lifts off beneath the wing of a modified 747 named Cosmic Girl. The plane drops the rocket high in the sky, and LauncherOne then makes its own way to orbit.

Virgin Orbit has touted this air-launch strategy — which is also employed by its sister company Virgin Galactic — as more flexible and responsive than the use of traditional vertically launched rockets.

Virgin Orbit will provide a severance package to all of the employees who will be let go, Hart said during Thursday's all-hands meeting, according to CNBC's Sheetz.

"This company, this team — all of you — mean a hell of a lot to me," Hart said during the meeting. "And I have not, and will not, stop supporting you, whether you're here on the journey or if you're elsewhere."

Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.

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