Branson’s Virgin Orbit explores options as cash crunch forces pause in operations

Reuters | March 16, 2023

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(Reuters) -Billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit said on Thursday that it was exploring strategic options and was in talks for funding after a cash crunch forced the satellite launch company to pause operations.

The temporary halt is expected to continue until March 21, Virgin Orbit said in a regulatory filing.

The company has furloughed nearly all its employees, a move aimed at helping it buy more time to finalize a new investment plan, Reuters reported on Wednesday, citing a source.

Shares of Virgin Orbit fell 31% in morning trading on Thursday, pulling the company’s market capitalization down to about $230 million. That’s a far cry from the more than $3 billion valuation it had commanded in 2021 after going public in a blank-check deal.

The steep drop reflects waning investor interest in space startups such as Virgin Orbit and Rocket Lab USA as they struggle with rocket launches in a highly competitive market. Rocket Lab shares tumbled about 70% last year.

Virgin Orbit’s rocket LauncherOne in January failed a mission to deploy nine small satellites into lower Earth orbit due to an anomaly during its flight through space. The company in November cut its target for mission launches in 2022.

The company also booked a loss of nearly $44 million for the third quarter ended Sept. 30. It had cash reserves of about $71 million at the time, a sharp drop from $122.1 million as of June-end. Virgin Orbit has not announced a date for its fourth-quarter results.

The company raised about $10 million last month and $25 million in November from Branson’s Virgin Investments – its majority shareholder with a stake of about 75%.

(Reporting by Chavi Mehta in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Tiyashi Datta; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty and Shinjini Ganguli)