Virgin Orbit, the only company which has a contract to launch from Spaceport Cornwall, has filed for bankruptcy protection in the US. The firm, which carried out its first launch from the Newquay base in January, which ended in failure, had laid off most of its staff last week.
Today it was announced that it had filed for bankruptcy protection after last-minute bids to secure new funding failed. Last week the company announced it was making 85% of staff redundant.
In a statement, Virgin Orbit chief executive Dan Hart said: “While we have taken great efforts to address our financial position and secure additional financing, we ultimately must do what is best for the business.
“We believe the cutting-edge launch technology this team has created will have wide appeal to buyers as we continue in the process to sell the company. At this stage, we believe the Chapter 11 process represents the best path forward to identify and finalise an efficient and value-maximising sale.”
The news comes after Virgin Orbit’s first launch from Spaceport Cornwall in January ended in failure following an anomaly with the LauncherOne rocket system which was meant to send small satellites into space.
Virgin Orbit was the only operator with horizontal launch capacity to have a deal with Spaceport Cornwall. The system works by using a modified aeroplane with the rocket launcher attached under a wing which can launch in the air.
Since the news first broke that Virgin Orbit was in financial difficulty Spaceport Cornwall and Cornwall Council has insisted that it is “business as usual”.
Melissa Quinn, head of Spaceport Cornwall, said last week: “We are saddened to hear the news from Virgin Orbit. We wish the very best for all of the team who have been affected.
“Spaceport Cornwall continues to operate with no direct impact to the team or project. As the UK’s only licensed spaceport we continue to grow the space cluster in Cornwall through developing future launch operations, opening a new facility to support global space and satellite businesses and inspire local school children into STEAM through our outreach programme.”
Spaceport Cornwall has been funded with public money including an initial £20million package which included £12m from Cornwall Council, £7.85m from the UK Space Agency and £2.5m from Virgin Orbit.
The development of Spaceport Cornwall was hailed as a way of generating more high value, high skilled jobs for Cornwall and securing a part of the global space industry. It was predicted that hundreds of new jobs could be created and that firms could relocate to Cornwall.
There are already a number of companies in Cornwall which have links to the space industry including Goonhilly Earth Station. As well as being able to launch to space Spaceport Cornwall aimed to have facilities which could be used in research and development in the space sector.
Spaceport Cornwall was the first spaceport in the UK to receive a licence to operate. Other spaceports are planned in other parts of the UK, including Scotland which will be home to the first vertical launch site in the country.