Updated at 4:25 PM ET with a Virgin Orbit statement.
Three winning airlines have bid in a bankruptcy auction for most of the launched Virgin Orbit’s assets, ending any chance of the company returning to flight under new ownership.
On May 23 in federal bankruptcy court in Delaware, Virgin Orbit announced that Rocket Lab, Stratolaunch and Vast had submitted winning bids for separate segments of the company’s assets, including manufacturing facilities and the Boeing 747.
Rocket Lab has offered $16.1 million to lease Virgin Orbit’s main production facility in Long Beach, California, along with machinery and equipment there. The Rocket Lab headquarters and production facility is located just two blocks away in Long Beach.
Launcher, a launch vehicle company acquired in February by space station developer Vast, has made a $2.7 million bid to lease Virgin Orbit at a test site in Mojave, California, along with the machinery, equipment and inventory there. While Launcher halted plans to build a launch vehicle after the acquisition, it said it would continue work on the E-2 rocket engine it was developing for it, and plans to offer it to other customers.
The bankruptcy auction also accepted a “stalking horse” bid of $17 million from Stratolaunch for Virgin Orbit’s Boeing 747 and related equipment. This bid, announced on May 16, was the minimum total auction value. Stratolaunch currently operates specially designed Roc aircraft which it uses as a launch pad for the hypersonic vehicles it is developing.
That 747, dubbed “Cosmic Girl” by Virgin Orbit, made the long flight the day before the auction, flying from Long Beach Airport over the West Coast to Seattle, then back east and south to Long Beach. On the return leg of the flight, it flew a maneuver similar to that used in the LauncherOne launch, entering a “racetrack” loop and then pulling off. The company did not disclose the reason for the five-hour flight.
The auction results exclude any attempt to keep the company intact and out of bankruptcy under new ownership. Virgin Orbit said on May 9 that it had heard of “multiple” parties who were interested in buying the entire company and restarting launches. It did not identify any of those parties, which were among more than 30 “indications of interest” in the assets of the company for which it worked.
It was not clear if any of those parties submitted bids. The filing noted that the “next highest bidders” who would be eligible to purchase those assets had not been selected if deals with the winning bidders failed.
Virgin Orbit said in a statement on May 23 that it would cease operations after the completion of the asset sale. She indicated that the bankruptcy sale was the result of “a rigorous and competitive auction that increases the value of the estate and reduces the remaining period for restructuring the company.”
The sale of two other divisions of Virgin Orbit’s assets has not yet been completed. The machinery and equipment at another Virgin Orbit facility in Long Beach was sold temporarily to Inliper Acquisition LLC, a liquidation company, for $650,000, pending completion of sales documentation.
Another asset, inventory at two Long Beach facilities, never sold at auction. The filing stated that the company “considered it to be in the interest of the debtors’ property” not to sell those assets at this time. This includes several LauncherOne missiles in various stages of production.
A court hearing on the outcome of the auction is scheduled for May 24. The company did not say what it plans for the remaining assets.
The company stated that “Virgin Orbit’s legacy in the space industry will be remembered forever”. “Its pioneering technologies, relentless pursuit of excellence, and unwavering commitment to advancing the frontiers of air launch have left an indelible mark on the industry.” A few companies pursue air launch systems for orbital missions.
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