Virgin Orbit returning small team to prep for next rocket launch

Virgin Orbit flew its modified Boeing 747 airplane “Cosmic Girl” with the company’s LauncherOne rocket under its wing for the first time on November 18, 2018.

Virgin Orbit

Virgin Orbit is returning a “small” team to work on Thursday, according to a company-wide email obtained by CNBC, as it aims to prepare for its next rocket launch even as its future remains in doubt.

“Any viable path for our operations will require us to successfully launch,” Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart wrote in the email to employees.

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Hart described this as a “first step” in an “incremental resumption of operations,” while Virgin Orbit is extending the unpaid furlough and pause in operations for the rest of than more than 750 person company “through at least Monday.”

The company’s leadership is scrambling to secure a funding lifeline and avoid bankruptcy, CNBC previously reported. Hart noted the pause has been “to conserve cash while we work to assess options to secure Virgin Orbit’s future.”

“We’ve made some important progress this week, but there is still work to be done,” Hart wrote.

The modified 737 aircraft “Cosmic Girl” lifts off from Mojave Air and Space Port in California carrying a LauncherOne rocket on June 30, 2021.

Virgin Orbit

A Virgin Orbit spokesperson confirmed in a statement to CNBC that the company is returning a subset of its employees on Thursday, but declined to specify how many are resuming work. Hart’s email said the staff returning will “focus on critical areas for our next mission,” including work on testing and installing the rocket’s engines. Reuters first reported the partial work resumption.

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Virgin Orbit developed a system that uses a modified 747 jet to send satellites into space by dropping a rocket from under the aircraft’s wing mid-flight. But the company’s last mission suffered a mid-flight failure, with an issue during the launch causing the rocket to not reach orbit and crash into the ocean.

In an update last week, Virgin Orbit said its internal investigation is nearly complete, with the rocket for its next launch featuring modifications and “in final stages of integration and test.”

Hart in his email wrote that Virgin Orbit is “facing uncertainty and I know that is very uncomfortable,” noting that employees not returning to work yet can continue to use vacation or sick days to help cover the unpaid time.

The company has been looking for new funds for several months, with majority owner Sir Richard Branson unwilling to fund the company further.

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