Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit Just Filed For Bankruptcy

Richard Branson's Virgin Orbit has filed for bankruptcy.

By Jonathan Klotz | Updated

Richard Branson

The Virgin Way may have helped Richard Branson build a fortune off of the namesake record megastore, but it couldn’t save Virgin Orbit. Futurism revealed that the business started to launch satellites as a competitor for Elon Musk’s SpaceX, and has filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy. This type of bankruptcy doesn’t dissolve the company outright, but it’s still not good news, and it will likely impact Virgin Galactic, the space tourism company with famous clients including Lady Gaga, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Tom Hanks.

When it comes to sifting through the wreckage of Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit endeavor, not a lot of digging is required to find out what went wrong. In January, a rocket developed by the company failed to reach orbit and became the world’s most expensive lawn dart when it landed in the Atlantic Ocean. On board was a series of commercial and defense satellites, which along with Britain’s hopes and dreams of the first space launch from the country, are now miles beneath the surface of the water.

For a company valued at billions of dollars when it first went public on the New York Stock Exchange, any comparisons to Zaire’s infamous failed launch in 1978, which also performed an expensive nosedive, are not good. Following the botched launch, Ricard Branson stopped all of Virgin Orbit’s operations and furloughed part of the workforce to preserve cash until more funding could be secured for a new launch.

As of Thursday afternoon, billionaire Richard Branson was substantially less rich, as Virgin Orbit’s stock had sunk to 19 cents a share, placing the company’s value at $67.4 million. Oddly, this is actually up from where it was on Tuesday, by seven cents, so some investors believe the company can come out of the reorganization in one piece.

If Richard Branson has to admit Virgin Orbit is a failed business venture, it will just be tossed onto the scrap heap of his other failures, which to his credit, are far outnumbered by his successful companies. Among his failures are Virgin Cars (an internet site selling cars started just before the Dot-com bubble burst), Virgin Cola (a competitor to Coke and Pepsi), and the unfortunately named Virgin Bride, a bridal boutique started in 1996 before SEO was important.

Though Richard Branson’s attempt at competition with Elon Musk has gone bust, Virgin Orbit isn’t as important to the billionaire as the space tourism company Virgin Galactic, which competes with Jeff Bezos’ company, Blue Origin. Virgin Galactic hasn’t opened up to commercial space flights yet, but according to the last public timetable, it’s on track for a 2026 flight. While Leonardo DiCaprio and Lady Gaga were among the first to purchase tickets, Ashton Kutcher was famously supposed to join them on the first flight before Mila Kunis convinced him to sell the ticket she deemed to be “a waste of money.”

Other celebrities have opted out as well, most of them following a crash in 2014. Still, Richard Branson is a born entrepreneur, and, likely, the bankruptcy of Virgin Orbit won’t deter him from pursuing his dream of commercial space travel becoming a reality.