Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit is suspending operations and furloughing staff

Undated handout photo issued by the UK Space Agency of Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne rocket at Spaceport Cornwall, at Cornwall Airport in Newquay. Final preparations for the first missile launch from British soil are underway. Several satellites are due to be launched from Cornwall Airport near Newquay on Monday evening. If all goes according to plan, the launch will take place at Spaceport Cornwall as part of the Start Me Up mission. Issue date: Monday January 9, 2023. PA Photo. See PA story SCIENCE Spaceport. Photo credit should read: UK Space Agency/PA Wire

The changes were announced on Wednesday but the company did not confirm reports that staff were being furloughed while it sought a funding lifeline (Image: PA).

Richard Branson’s satellite launch company Virgin Orbit has ceased operations, the company said amid reports it was working to secure additional funding.

The news comes after the California-based company failed on its first-ever satellite mission from UK soil in January.

“Virgin Orbit is initiating a company-wide pause in operations effective March 16, 2023 and expects to provide an update on continued operations in the coming weeks,” the company said in a statement.

On Wednesday, employees were told at a staff meeting that the rest of the workforce will be taking unpaid leave, although employees can redeem annual leave.

The company’s chief executive, Dan Hart, told employees the furlough would buy time to finalize a new investment plan, Reuters reported. The staff is expected to be updated next week.

Virgin Orbit was scheduled to launch nine small satellites from Spaceport Cornwall in Newquay, but its LauncherOne rocket suffered an in-flight failure and never reached orbit.

This undated photo released by Virgin Orbit on Monday January 9, 2023 shows the LauncherOne rocket in a hangar at Spaceport Cornwall at Cornwall Airport in Newquay, England. Engineers are making final preparations for the UK's first satellite launch later on Monday, when a converted passenger plane is expected to launch a Virgin Orbit rocket carrying several small satellites. (Virgin Orbit via AP)

The news comes after the California-based company failed on its first-ever satellite mission from British soil in January (Image: AP)

Although the LauncherOne rocket successfully detached the payload from the modified Boeing 747 that took off from Cornwall, it did not make it into space.

It ignited and appeared to rise on schedule, but then word came from Virgin Orbit, the American company running the launch, that there had been an “anomaly.”

While the 747 – known as “Cosmic Girl” – made its way back to Cornwall, the rocket itself and the shoebox-sized satellites it was carrying were lost.

Virgin Orbit blamed the accident on a fuel filter that became detached during takeoff, causing one engine to overheat.

“On the operational side, our investigation is almost complete and our next production rocket with the required modification is in the final stages of integration and testing,” a spokesman said Thursday.

MORE: Virgin Orbit reveals more details on why UK rocket launch failed

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Justin Scacco

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