Virgin Orbit shuts down after bankruptcy sale to Rocket Lab, Stratolaunch and Vast’s Launcher

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The modified Boeing 747 plane, named “Cosmic Girl”, will take off from Spaceport Cornwall in southwest England.

Hugh Hastings / Stringer / Getty Images

Bankrupt rocket company Virgin Orbit is shutting down, after selling its facility leases and equipment to a trio of aerospace companies in an auction, the company confirmed on Tuesday.

“As Virgin Orbit embarks on this path, the management and employees would like to extend their heartfelt gratitude to all stakeholders,” the company said in a statement.

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“Virgin Orbit’s legacy in the space industry will forever be remembered. Its groundbreaking technologies, relentless pursuit of excellence, and unwavering commitment to advancing the frontiers of air launch have left an indelible mark on the industry,” the company added.

Spun out of Virgin Galactic in 2017 by founder Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Orbit reached rarefied air by flying multiple missions. But difficulty raising funds, and slow execution, brought the once multi-billion dollar company to bankruptcy and ultimately shut down.

Sold in pieces

The rocket for the company’s second demonstration mission undergoing final assembly at its factory in Long Beach, California.

Virgin Orbit

Monday’s auction bids amount to about $36 million in total. Virgin Orbit’s six or so rockets that were in various stages of manufacturing assembly, and its intellectual property, have yet to be sold, a Virgin Orbit spokesperson confirmed.

Rocket Lab successfully bid $16.1 million for the company’s headquarters in Long Beach, California, which is about 140,000 square feet, the spokesperson said. Although founded in New Zealand, Rocket Lab was already a neighbor of Virgin Orbit, with a headquarters and facilities in the Long Beach area. Additionally, Rocket Lab’s purchase includes assets such as 3D-printers and a specialty tank welding machine.

Stratolaunch was awarded its $17 million “stalking horse” bid for Virgin Orbit’s 747 jet. A Stratolaunch spokesperson, in a statement to CNBC, said the company “continually evaluates ways to increase our capacity to meet the imperative for testing hypersonic technologies via leap-ahead flight demonstrations.”

“We will share more news about the sale as it becomes available,” Stratolaunch noted.

Launcher, a subsidiary of Vast Space, is purchasing the company’s facility in Mojave, California — as well as some machinery, equipment and inventory — for $2.7 million. Virgin Orbit’s Mojave leases include infrastructure such as rocket-engine test stands and an aircraft hangar.

A liquidation company, Inliper, is purchasing the company’s office equipment for $650,000.

Rocket Lab and Launcher did not immediately respond to CNBC requests for comment.

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Previously in the bankruptcy process, Virgin Orbit agreed to the terms of Stratolaunch’s bid, which was to purchase the 747 jet “Cosmic Girl” and other aircraft assets. Stratolaunch has been developing its own airborne system, the world’s largest airplane called “Roc,” as a platform for hypersonic flight testing.

Virgin Orbit filed for bankruptcy protection on April 4 after the company failed to secure a funding lifeline and laid off nearly its entire workforce. The auction outcome falls short of Virgin Orbit’s goal in the Chapter 11 bankruptcy process, which was to find a wholesale buyer that would keep the company’s assets and intellectual property intact.

The bankruptcy court is set to approve the sales in a hearing on Wednesday at 2 p.m. ET.

Here's what led Virgin Orbit to bankruptcy

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