Posted inCommercial

Virgin Orbit begins “incremental” return to work as it seeks new funding

Virgin Orbit Cosmic Girl
A series of convertible notes sold by Virgin Orbit to raise working capital are secured by the company’s assets, including its Boeing 747 aircraft used as a launch platform. Credit: Virgin Orbit

WASHINGTON — A small set of Virgin Orbit employees will return to work after a week-long furlough as the company attempts to raise money to remain solvent.

In a brief filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission early March 22, the company announced an “incremental resumption” of operations effective March 23. Most company employees, though, will remain on furlough until at least March 27.

The company “will initiate an incremental resumption of its operations beginning on Thursday, March 23, 2023, to work on preparations for its next mission,” it stated. “The operational pause for the remainder of its workforce is expected to continue through March 26, 2023. The Company is planning for a further resumption of operations on March 27, 2023.”

Virgin Orbit announced March 15 it would begin an “operational pause” the next day, furloughing nearly all its estimated 750 employees. That pause was intended to give the company time as it “conducts discussions with potential funding sources and explores strategic opportunities,” it stated in an SEC filing.

Virgin Orbit was dealing with financial problems exacerbated by the Jan. 9 failure of its LauncherOne rocket on the company’s first mission from the United Kingdom. The company said when it announced the pause in operations that the investigation into the failure was “nearly complete.” Virgin Orbit previously said it traced the failure to a dislodged fuel filter in the rocket’s upper stage.

The company did not disclose how many employees would return to work. Industry sources said it would be a relatively small number of people involved with working on the next LauncherOne rocket. Virgin Orbit said in its SEC filing last week that the rocket was in the “final stages of integration and test” after making changes to correct the fuel filter problem.

Virgin Orbit did not provide an update in its latest SEC filing about efforts to raise new funding. The company “does not currently intend to disclose further developments with respect to these discussions, unless and until its Board of Directors approves a specific transaction or other course of action requiring disclosure,” it stated.

However, Reuters reported March 22 that the company is in talks with venture fund Matthew Brown Companies to raise up to $200 million through a private share placement. That deal could close as soon as March 24.

Matthew Brown Companies describes itself as a Texas-based venture capital firm “investing agnostically across emerging ventures and markets.” Those investments have included space: according to Crunchbase, which tracks startups and investments, Matthew Brown Companies has participated in funding rounds and secondary share sales of SpaceX, and also was part of a Series C round raised by small launch vehicle developer Astra in 2019. Astra, like Virgin Orbit, subsequently went public though a merger with a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...