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Virgin Orbit to sell assets and shut down

Virgin Orbit's Boeing 747-400 carrier aircraft releases its LauncherOne rocket during a 2019 test. (Virgin Orbit)

Financially troubled Virgin Orbit plans to sell its assets to four winning bidders and cease operations, the US-based small satellite launch provider announced on 23 May.

Among the auction winners is Stratolaunch, which has agreed to pay USD17 million for Virgin Orbit's carrier aircraft, a modified Boeing 747-400 nicknamed ‘Cosmic Girl', according to a court filing. While Virgin Orbit has used Cosmic Girl to fire the LauncherOne rocket, which is designed to place satellites into orbit, Stratolaunch said in a statement that it intends to use the plane to test hypersonic payloads instead. “We can provide further comments” after the transaction closes, the buyer added.

Another successful bidder is space company Rocket Lab, which will obtain Virgin Orbit's 144,000 sq ft (13,378 m 2 ) headquarters and rocket factory in Long Beach, California, for USD16.1 million. Rocket Lab said in a statement that it will use the leased facility to accelerate production of its new, larger Neutron launch vehicle, which is intended to complement its existing Electron small satellite launcher.

The other winning bidders are space startup Launcher Inc, which will pay USD2.7 million for a test site in Mojave, California, and liquidation company Inliper, which will get office equipment for USD650,000.

The transactions require the approval of the US Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware. The court has scheduled a 24 May hearing on the matter and Virgin Orbit expects the sales to close “shortly thereafter”.

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