Virgin Orbit’s launch business sold for parts to Vast, Stratolaunch, and Rocket Lab
Virgin Orbit, once valued at $3.7 billion, has been chopped up for parts.
The company has concluded the auction for some of its assets, which were put up for sale as part of its Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings. Altogether, the three winning bids come to around $36 million.
The winning bids were submitted by Rocket Lab, Launcher (and its parent company, Vast), and Stratolaunch. According to court filings, Rocket Lab will get Virgin's 144,000-square-foot Long Beach, California–based manufacturing facility for $16.1 million; Launcher successfully bid for the Mojave-based facilities for $2.7 million; and Virgin's "Cosmic Girl" aircraft and related assets will go to Stratolaunch for $17 million.
“As Virgin Orbit embarks on this path, the management and employees would like to extend their heartfelt gratitude to all stakeholders, including customers, partners, investors, and employees, for their support and dedication over the years," the company said in a statement. "It is through their collective efforts that the Company has been able to achieve significant milestones and make lasting contributions to the advancement of satellite launch in the United States and the United Kingdom."
Stratolaunch had submitted a "stalking horse" bid for the modified Boeing 747 aircraft earlier this month. A stalking horse bid sets the minimum floor price for the assets, so it appears that Virgin did not receive any competing bids for that property.
Virgin Orbit filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on April 4 after months of bad news: In January, a failed rocket launch from Cornwall, U.K., followed by an announcement that it was furloughing most of its staff due to insufficient capital. The company entered bankruptcy after it failed to secure additional funding to continue operations.
Virgin — to be distinguished from Virgin Galactic, a company that launches humans into space — had developed a novel way of sending small payloads into orbit using a modified Boeing 747 jet and a small rocket called LauncherOne. According to some estimates, Virgin Orbit spent upward of $1 billion developing the modified jet and rocket launch system.
All in all, the winning bidders are getting a steal. Rocket Lab already has a massive footprint in Long Beach, and it will only benefit from the additional square footage and machines, like 3D printers and specialty tank welding machines. Vast, which has ambitions of launching the first private space station, will get the Mojave leases for test stands and an aircraft hangar. And Stratolaunch, the company purchasing Cosmic Girl, is getting the plane for just a small fraction of its development price.
"The combination of [Virgin's] assets with Rocket Lab’s existing production, manufacturing, and test capabilities is expected to advance the production of Rocket Lab’s larger launch vehicle, Neutron," Rocket Lab said in a statement. "Rocket Lab will not be integrating Virgin Orbit’s launch system within its existing launch services."
According to court filings, the final sale hearing is scheduled for May 24 at 2 p.m. EDT.