Virgin Orbit stock plummets after UK launch failure

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Cosmic Girl, a Virgin Boeing 747-400 aircraft sits on the tarmac with Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket attached to the wing, ahead of the first UK launch tonight, at Spaceport Cornwall at Newquay Airport in Newquay, Britain, January 9, 2023.

Henry Nicholls | Reuters

Virgin Orbit stock fell in trading on Monday evening, after the company confirmed that its first launch out of the United Kingdom failed to reach orbit.

Shares of Virgin Orbit fell as much as 30% in after-hours trading, from its previous close of $1.93 a share.

The company uses a modified 747 jet to send satellites into space, by dropping a rocket from under the aircraft’s wing mid-flight – a method known as air launch.

Virgin Orbit’s webcast showed its LauncherOne rocket released and fired its engine, with the company saying in a tweet that the rocket “successfully reached Earth orbit.” But about half an hour later, the company announced the launch had “an anomaly” and that the nine satellites onboard would not reach orbit.

Virgin Orbit is reviewing the launch data to identify the source of the failure, and acknowledged that it deleted the tweet about reaching orbit. The 747 jet and its crew safely returned and landed at Spaceport Cornwall in southwest England.

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Monday’s mission was Virgin Orbit’s sixth to date, and its second launch failure.

The company conducted just two launches in 2022, short of the forecast for four to six missions that Virgin Orbit gave at the beginning of last year. At the end of the third quarter, Virgin Orbit had $71.2 million in cash on hand, and raised an additional $25 million from Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, an existing major shareholder, in the middle of the fourth quarter.

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