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Bankrupt Virgin Orbit is dead, its assets purchased by a variety of different companies

After failing to find a single buyer for the whole company, Virgin Orbit is now officially dead as a company, its assets broken up during bankruptcy proceedings and purchased by several different companies.

Rocket Lab paid $16.1 million for Virgin Orbit’s main manufacturing facility in California, which it intends to use for developing its larger Neutron rocket. Stratolaunch paid $17 million for the company’s 747 airplane and related equipment. Launcher, a former rocket startup that is now owned by the space station startup Vast, paid $2.7 for the company’s test site in Mojave, California, which it plans to use for static fire engine tests of a rocket engine it is developing for sale to others. A liquidation company purchased other assets, while the various LauncherOne rockets under construction remain unsold.

It is essential the reasons for this failure are made very clear. The destruction of this company occurred because regulators in the United Kingdom prevented it from launching from within the UK for almost half a year, during which it could not perform other launches elsewhere and therefore earn revenue. It then ran very low on cash, and when the UK launch failed in January, the company no longer had the resources to weather to time necessary to complete the investigation, fix the problem that caused the failure, and resume launches.

For other rocket startups, it is very important to consider this story before committing to launching in the UK. where you will face major bureaucratic obstacles from its government. Until there is evidence that something has changed, it might be better to consider other launch sites.

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From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
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  • Jay

    Just to add to the story, Rocket Lab bought V.O.’s HQ as well along with the lease to the manufacturing plant. The HQ is only 12 minutes from the manufacturing plant.
    Vast purchased the lease to the Mojave testing area, which includes tests stands and a hanger.

  • Bo. Wilson

    You wrote: “ For other rocket startups, it is very important to consider this story before committing to launching in the UK. where you will face major bureaucratic obstacles from its government. Until there is evidence that something has changed, it might be better to consider other launch sites.”

    I think we can say the same thing about SpaceX launching from the United States. You have ridiculed this idea in the past as being impractical, but given the recent lawsuit against the FAA that could be tied up in the courts for years they may have no other choice. In addition, there are plenty of Soros district attorneys who would be happy to charge musk, and SpaceX with trumped up charges, so to speak. Your article above about launching from the ocean is a possible alternative. Another would be to move from one banana republic, the USA, to another one where they could pay off the government cheaper.

  • Bo. Wilson: You can make believe Musk can leave the U.S., but reality is a stubborn thing. As I have commented repeatedly:
    Why is it the first reaction of so many people when I post stories like this is to suggest that Elon Musk flee, to run away? Not only can’t he do it (both for legal and practical reasons), it is the worst possibly reaction to this government overreach.

    It is time all Americans stopped running. There really is no where else to go. We need to stand and fight, and force the government and its intolerant minions to back down. Otherwise, freedom will continue to lose ground everywhere.

    I expect Musk to fight, as he has fought and won previously.

    As for moving:

    1. Legally he can’t. SpaceX as a rocket company falls until strict federal regulations. No matter where he moves those regulations will apply, especially because much of his work force and materials will come from the U.S.

    2. Practically he can’t. The qualified workers and infrastructure doesn’t exist in these other locations. You can’t simply recreate this kind of hi-tech company in South Africa, in Mexico, or any other third world country.

    Let me add that Musk’s situation differs considerably from the situation of choosing to launch from the UK. Many companies worldwide, including SpaceX, still have the freedom to pick and choose launch sites. While this decision will not effect the regulatory framework they presently live under in the nation from which their company originates, it can matter depending on the country chosen for launch.

    Picking the UK at this time seems a big mistake.

  • Bob Wilson

    Why is your first reaction that it can’t be done? Companies move headquarters repeatedly. One company that I’m familiar with GE Medical systems moved to Ireland but they still sell many systems here in the United States. They still have branches in the United States for engineering and R&D. Just as they do in other countries.

    It is all well and good to say he is going to fight but how much good did that do Virgin Orbit in the UK? As the stolen election in 2022 in your Arizona and other states showed, there’s a better than even chance that the Democrats will steal the election in 2024. Musk taking Twitter from the leftist hegemony is an unforgivable sin to them. And then today his seeming to ally himself with DeSantis will put him even more in the crosshairs.

    Wisdom is picking your battles and avoiding fighting at all, if you can do it.

  • john hare

    Bob Wilson,
    It’s called ITAR, International Traffic in Arms Regulations. It applies to rockets as weapons. No he can’t for the reasons Robert mentioned and others.

    What may happen at some point is one of those countries Robert dismisses as unable puts together a scenario where a company can match what SpaceX has done to date, and then surpass it if enough obstacles are utilized. That is far more a cultural and legal (property rights) problem than a technical one. There is certainly some percentage of ex SpaceX, Blue, ULA, Roscosmos, Arianne, etc people that would move for the opportunity.

  • Tom Billings

    Bob, your lead sentence is ignores US law.

    “Why is your first reaction that it can’t be done? Companies move headquarters repeatedly.”

    Companies that break ITAR see their leading executives, at minimum, go to jail. International Trade in Arms Regulations is the relevant portion of the US code. In 1998, after the Loral Incident fiasco, Congress changed this law so that practically *anything* involved with spaceflight that is exported from the US, or removed in any way, including moving HQs and laboratories, design offices, or production facilities. It is so bad that to export aerospace grade screws from the US now requires a months-long review by the US State Department. To move a US company that builds, flies, and uses spaceships to any place outside US borders is presently impossible.

  • GeorgeC

    Could there be a curse on UK rocketry because the UK sent jet engine technology to the Soviet Union at the start of the Cold War?

    Or just another case of what were they thinking?

  • Bob Wilson

    Well, it looks like SpaceX is screwed. The left specializes in lawfare. They destroyed the nuclear power industry by using Lawfare to make it too expensive to be economically viable.

    This website gives the multiple reasons for the choice of Texas.

    So it looks like they are going to have to fight it out in court. It’s going to increase their cost and delay thesir progress. One positive point is that Texas is covered by the fifth circuit that tends to be conservative.

  • pzatchok

    Nuclear power in the US died because of public fear.

    No one fears the rocket industry.

  • Richard M

    To be fair, Virgin Orbit was not in exactly brilliant financial shape even before the UK launch debacle. As Eric Berger noted in his story today: “When LauncherOne finally took flight for the first time in May 2020, the company had spent a staggering amount of money, nearly $1 billion, developing the rocket and air-launch system. It was clear at the time that Virgin Orbit was never going to make that money back by charging $12 million to $15 million to launch a few hundred kilograms per mission. It also seemed fairly obvious that, with the large workforce Hart hired, Virgin Orbit was not going to break even.”

    None of which excuses the Britain’s inept bureaucratic (mis)handling of VO’s launch program. The company was doomed, but the lesson sent to other, healthier launch startups is that Britain is simply not a place to try launching your rocket from.

  • GaryMike

    Rocket scientists, really rocket engineers (the science of rocketry as been an established thing for a very long time), are not equally good at running a business.

    Business is not a science. It’s more an art.

    Fusing them together is not easy.

  • Agenor

    If a company loses 200 Million year after year, 1-2 additional flights for 15 Millions don’t change that much. I would even say, that the failure of their last flight was as damaging as the delays.
    Also, doing something new brings risk, that is the truth (more costs and delays). So it was naive to think, that their first flight from the UK would fly without delays. There was even news in December, that VG had to change a few things before they are flight ready. So some of the delays weren’t even the fault of the UK. I mean how big were the delays for Rocket Lab to get their launchpad in Wallops going? And what was the cause of the delay, a disagreement which software should be used for the flight termination?
    So I find it strange to think, that the delay was the cause and not the failure in combination with the high consumption of their money.

  • Star Bird


  • Edward

    Bob Wilson wrote: “Well, it looks like SpaceX is screwed.

    Yup. That is what we get when our government becomes tyrannical. By the way, the main purpose of the ITAR regulations, as expanded in the 1990s, was to keep China from getting the rocket technology that they have today. Instead, it mostly alienated our allies, as even they had a hard time getting products from the U.S. — and from personal experience, we had a hard time sending faulty products back to a foreign manufacturer for corrective action. Apparently, our allies were being treated as enemies. Europe decided to stop buying U.S. parts for their satellites, because ITAR restrictions were too onerous for them.

    Richard M wrote: “To be fair, Virgin Orbit was not in exactly brilliant financial shape even before the UK launch debacle.

    To be more fair, Virgin Orbit had been looking at multiple launches between the original September 2022 launch date and the delayed launch date in this year. With this schedule, VO anticipated revenues that would have kept it going and enabled its planned expansion.

    When explaining the bankruptcy, many news outlets only mention the expenses incurred by beginning, last year, to implement their planned expansion. Performing expansion is a normal operation for a young company. (Rocket Lab is also expanding.) I have only come across any mention of the U.K. delay and the resulting lack of revenue stream here on Robert’s site, and this delay is the root cause of the bankruptcy. Robert’s point is not only correct but should be considered by any company wishing to launch from the U.K. Delays in launch not only delay revenue generation, they can result in the loss of current customers and reluctance of future customers to sign on.

    VO’s expansion was to get into areas that would make enough money to recoup the initial investment in the company.

    There is a huge difference between Virgin Orbit and Rocket Lab. The latter was able to launch its rockets from its existing pads in New Zealand, but Virgin Orbit had commitments to the U.K., a government that screwed them into bankruptcy, and could not launch elsewhere until after its U.K. launch.

    If it is naive to think that a first launch in the U.K. will necessarily come with regulatory delays, then all the U.K. launch companies are going to have a hard time of it, as this is the only place they are planning to do their launches. Since they have not yet had any revenues, they may have a harder time than even VO had.

  • Edward wrote, “I have only come across any mention of the U.K. delay and the resulting lack of revenue stream here on Robert’s site.”

    I am not noting this quote to blow my own horn, but to highlight a pattern in journalism that has existed my whole life: The misbehavior of government is never included by journalists when describing stories like this. When business failures occur regulation is just considered a fact of life, to be accepted unstated, with all its faults, even though it is often the only reason for the failure. For example, even now when reporting on the Wuhan panic in 2020 most mainstream journalists make a point to forget entirely the millions of businesses and careers destroyed. Either it didn’t happen, and if it did it wasn’t the government’s fault. COVID did it!

    But COVID didn’t do it. COVID was nothing more than a variation of the flu, with about the same virulence. Almost no businesses should have been destroyed by it. The destruction occurred because the government stamped its boot on everyone’s face.

  • Edward

    Robert Zimmerman noted: “The misbehavior of government is never included by journalists when describing stories like this. When business failures occur regulation is just considered a fact of life, to be accepted unstated, with all its faults, even though it is often the only reason for the failure.” [Emphasis in original]

    Not including the root causes of such failures or problems means that we do not get the information we need to prevent similar occurrences in the future. When a rocket fails or and airplane crashes, we have teams of government investigators examine all aspects of what happened. and they make recommendations so that similar accidents do not occur again. This is why U.S. airlines are now so very safe and why we have so few operational launch failures and in-space failures, as compared to the previous century.

    When it comes to business, instead of figuring out how to prevent future bankruptcies and failures all we get is an attitude such as “Business is not a science. It’s more an art.” There are definitely business fundamentals, learned over centuries of business operations. The “art” comes less from how to run a business properly and more from finding a niche that needs to be filled and filling it efficiently. Virgin Orbit had succeeded on the latter part but had interference by government regulators on the former part.

    The root cause of VO’s failure is not in the normal operation of the company but in the governmental interference of that operation. The root cause of the many business failures during the Wuhan flu panic was not that doing business leads to the business’s failure but that the government’s reaction to the flu was to severely interfere with the normal operations of businesses. What is worse is that governments allowed certain businesses to remain in normal operations yet forced other businesses to deviate exceedingly from normal operations. It is as though they were taking advantage of a flu to create a crisis so that they could easily reward their friends and punish their enemies.

    Many companies survived the Spanish flu a century ago and SARS a decade or so ago and several pandemics in-between. But in the case of the Wuhan flu, the world’s governments wildly deviated from normal epidemic procedures, which had been developed over centuries, and reacted in almost the worst panicked ways possible.

    We have no investigators to make recommendations that we never to that again.

  • Edward wrote, “We have no investigators to make recommendations that we never do that again.”

    Actually, my comment above was to note exactly who those investigators should be (journalists) and how they have been failing at their job for decades and decades.

    The rise of independent news sources on the internet, such as this webpage, are essentially a corrective action caused by the failures of those “professional” journalists. (I now admit to blowing my own horn.)

  • Max

    Earlier in this thread, it was suggested that Elon musk take his rocket company to another country… That is not possible, not permissible.

    And yet China boasts clearly and loudly that they are developing their own starship and superheavy…

    what if it’s not a copy?

    All stolen tech? flight, reentry, and navigation algorithms may have already been transferred?
    Will China have full access to star link in all its capabilities?

    Perhaps he’s already set up shop in a nation that will give him all the technical and material support that he could possibly desire… complete with new launching facilities going up all over China. All out in the open!

    If the new USA banana republic puts us in a new dark age…

    Build back better is still the plan and the driving force behind Biden administration… The change is hard, that’s why everything must be destroyed so they can build it back in their own image of lunacy!

    This must be done secretively of course. (his connections and parts suppliers are legendary with China)
    At the rate this country is falling apart, a prudent man would have constituency plans. He is familiar with the world economic forum, and has not broken off ties…
    Nor has he allowed conservatives back on Twitter but a token few. His new liberal insider CEO will be blamed for the first amendment violations that are yet to come.
    (here’s your new boss… Same as the old boss)
    Steve Bannon of the war room had a lot to say on Elon recently, have yet to find time to look it up.

  • pzatchok


    Ellon can not even have contact with anyone in China without disclosing it in full to the US Government.

    The idea that he is in cahoots with China and getting ready to launch from there is ridiculous. he would loose everything he has here in an instant. overnight. And be jailed to boot. Everything he owns would be auctioned off to the highest bidder and they would keep working with the US government,

    No sorry, China is actively stealing secrets from companies worldwide. Its an open secret around the world.
    They even stole firearm designs directly from US companies and then tried to sell them back into the US. President Clinton actually stopped this by banning ALL Chinese firearm imports. I have two of those firearms. An AK-47 and an M-14. Imported before the ban. They made copies of almost every US firearm possible. Handguns and shotguns included.

    Heck if you look at the new Russian AK-74’s (different from an AK-47) being sent to their special forces all of the stocks and add on optics are direct copies of US civilian components and designs. It sort of funny that our civilian market first made them for our civilians and then they showed up in Russia years later.

  • mkent

    ”Perhaps he’s already set up shop in a nation that will give him all the technical and material support that he could possibly desire…”

    Then he’d better not set foot in either the USA or any country that has an extradition treaty with the USA (which is most of them) ever again. If he does, he will spend the rest of his life in federal prison.

    This would also apply to anyone, such as engineers or computer operators, who assisted Elon in the export.

    I don’t know why many of Elon’s biggest fans want him to die in federal prison, but many of them apparently do.

  • pzatchok

    I do not think they are his fans.

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