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  Is $200 million enough to save Virgin Orbit? (Mar. 23, 2023)

Virgin Orbit (VORB) is currently negotiating with Matthew Brown, a private investor, to win a $200 million capital infusion that would give Brown control of the company, Reuters first reported today (March 22).

Virgin Orbit uses a rocket launched from a modified 747 to put satellites in orbit. The company was spun out of Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson’s space tourism firm, and went public through a SPAC deal in late 2021. The firm has faced challenges in execution, culminating in a failed launch in January that forced the company to furlough its staff last week and seek emergency financing.

A small group of workers returns tomorrow to begin preparing for the company’s next launch, the company said in an SEC filing.

When Virgin Orbit closed its merger with a blank-check company, many of its investors pulled out, leaving the firm with $255 million less capital than expected. In its last report, from September 2022, the company had $72 million on hand and a three-month burn rate of $43 million.

What would a rescue look require?

The company said in September that it had more than $143 million worth of binding launch agreements, including as many as six potential launches this year that might generate around $72 million of revenue at a rough cost of $12 million per launch. But the company has never launched more than two rockets in a single year. It also has yet to announce how it will fix the problem that caused its January failure, which preliminary investigations traced to a loose fuel filter.

With very little margin between available capital and burn rate, cost-cutting may be a requirement—but that may also complicate the task of launching satellites on time.

The prospect of another year of losses along with the ownership structure of the company as Branson has tried to rescue it—he secured a $20 million capital infusion in Dec. 2022 with the entirety of the company’s assets—are likely to make a rescue more complex.

Nonetheless, Virgin Orbit is the product of more than $1 billion in previous investments by Branson and Middle Eastern investors and is the only air-launched rocket firm in operation. That could give it an advantage, particularly in competing for national security contracts that prize flexibility, and might make the troubled firm a steal at this price. At its peak stock price in early 2022, the company was worth $3 billion.

Brown, a Texas-based investor focused on renewable energy, has been linked to the Woods Family Office for his entire career. That organization manages the investments of the heirs to the Great American Oil Company, a firm whose past owners included Howard Hughes. Public records indicate that this is Brown’s first investment in the space sector.


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