Will the UK’s space industry survive the collapse of Virgin Orbit?

The collapse of British billionaire Sir Richard Branson’s satellite firm Virgin Orbit this week has thrown the future of the UK’s space industry into jeopardy.

On Tuesday, the firm announced it was permanently ceasing operations, months after a major mission failure.

Melissa Quinn, chief executive of Cornwall Spaceport, where the project was based, stepped down last week, leading to concerns the sector is now facing an uncertain future.

But Britain’s leading voices in the space industry have told The National they are confident the sector will continue to “thrive”, with new advances emerging.

David Jones, a former Wales minister, said while it was unfortunate that Virgin Orbit had gone bankrupt, it was not a reflection on the burgeoning British space industry.

“There are always going to be setbacks when it comes to the very advanced technology needed to enter space,” he said.

“But space development is advancing significantly in Britain, particularly with a Spaceport in Cornwall and another in Scotland.

“The UK has got a very important satellite industry and it’s got a major space industry that is producing great advances, particularly in satellites.”

UK’s new rockets set to benefit in active commercial market

In January, Virgin Orbit, based in California, sought to complete the first satellite launch from British soil, with hopes the mission would be a major stepping stone for space exploration from the UK.

However, the firm’s LauncherOne rocket failed to reach orbit and saw its payload of US and UK intelligence satellites plunge into the ocean.

Last month, Sir Richard filed for bankruptcy after failing to secure rescue funding.

will the uk’s space industry survive the collapse of virgin orbit?

Cosmic Girl, a repurposed Boeing 747 aircraft carrying the LauncherOne rocket under its left wing, at Cornwall Airport Newquay. Getty

Keith Ryden, head of Surrey Space Centre and professor of space engineering at the University of Surrey, said that, despite the setback, the industry has an optimistic future.

“The apparent collapse of Virgin Orbit is hard for its employees and disappointing in terms of the UK’s horizonal launch capacity,” he said.

“However, there are still numerous launch options worldwide for the low Earth orbits Virgin Orbit were going to service and it’s clear that new rockets, including the UK-based vertical launchers now on the starting blocks, will enter a very active commercial market.

“In our part of the UK, where the Space South Central regional cluster is uniting academia and businesses, it’s very evident that our space industry is thriving.

“New technologies are emerging, developed by the skilled experts living in our region, and we’re extremely optimistic about the future.”

Experts warn the space industry is ‘fragile’

Virgin Orbit was founded by Sir Richard in 2017 as an offshoot of his space-tourism venture Virgin Galactic Holdings, with the aim of securing a share of the market for launching small satellites into space.

Its goal was to provide swift and adaptable space launch services for the growing small satellites market by air-launching mini rockets from a modified Boeing 747-400 aircraft.

The LauncherOne rockets were launched from modified Virgin passenger planes, allowing the company to operate more flexibly than by using fixed launch sites.

Some fear the setback will lead investors to look to big US firms, such as SpaceX, instead.

Atma Prakash, senior lecturer in aerospace engineering in Teesside University’s School of Computing, Engineering and Digital Technologies, has warned that the industry is “fragile”.

“Space is not easy. When people give examples for simple tasks, they all say, this is not ‘rocket science’,” he said.

“But space is anything but simple. Given the complexities involved in planning any space missions, there are many risks associated to it which could result in delay or, worst-case scenario, failure of the mission.

“In the case of Virgin Orbit, that is exactly what happened. The failure launch from Spaceport Cornwall and the associated debts resulted in the downfall of the company.”

He added that Virgin Orbit was supposed to be the UK market’s “torch bearer in the space economy”, particularly for Cornwall, with the promise of job opportunities and local development.

“But, due to the bankruptcy, the company has been forced to lay off hundreds of jobs,” Dr Prakash continued. “This shows there are always risks in the space sector and how fragile the space market is – even if the company is as big as Virgin.

“As this was the only public traded company in the space market, investors may now be more interested to invest in US rather than UK.

“Even though this is a great loss for the UK economy, it will not stop the growth of the space industry due to the big players such as SpaceX and Blue Origin already there to support and provide the space launches.”

Malcolm Macdonald, director of the Applied Space Technology Laboratory at the University of Strathclyde, said the collapse of Virgin Orbit should act as a warning to others.

“Directly, this has almost zero impact on the UK’s space sector. Despite the significant funding from UK government it seems that Virgin Orbit had no, or very few, UK employees,” he told The National.

“Indirectly, it is clearly bad news for Cornwall Spaceport, and the broader Cornwall space cluster, as Virgin Orbit was their only operator and it looks like they haven’t managed to yet establish a suitably robust business at that spaceport.

“This should be a cautionary tale for other single operator spaceports, of which the UK has a few.”

On Tuesday, following the collapse Virgin Orbit said its legacy would endure.

“Virgin Orbit’s legacy in the space industry will forever be remembered,” it said in a statement.

“Its groundbreaking technologies, relentless pursuit of excellence and unwavering commitment to advancing the frontiers of air launch have left an indelible mark on the industry.”

UK government still committed to supporting space sector

Even given the setback with Virgin Orbit, the UK government said it was still focused “on supporting multiple projects designed to make the UK the leading provider of commercial small satellite launch in Europe by 2030”.

“The government is committed to supporting this high-growth sector, boosting the UK’s reputation as a growing space power, and inspiring the next generation of professionals,” Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology Michelle Donelan said last month.

Aside from Spaceport Cornwall, where Virgin Orbit’s UK operations were based, there is also “significant activity” under way in Scotland, with two new spaceports at SaxaVord and Sutherland expecting satellite launches in 2024.

Former Wales minister Mr Jones has praised Sir Richard for making attempts to commercialise space and predicted that despite the setback, the UK still has an important place in the space industry.

“You have to give credit to him for that and it’s just very sad that his endeavour has failed,” said the senior Tory backbencher.

“But that’s not a comment on the UK space industry as a whole. We’ve got a very important space industry and it will get more important as time goes on.”

News Related


Lawyers optimistic political instability in Kuwait shall pass

By Majd Othman KUWAIT: Under the sponsor of the Ministry of Information and in collaboration with Kuwait Society of Lawyers, Infinity International Center launched a two-day “Law and Development Conference”. ... Read more »

Merve Dizdar wins best actress at Cannes 2023

Dizdar wins best actress ALBAWABA – Turkish actress Merve Dizdar wins best actress at the 76th Cannes Film Festival. Turkish actress Merve Dizdar won the best actor award the 2023 ... Read more »

Journalists discuss social media, accountability at Arab Media Forum

By Ghadeer Ghloum KUWAIT: Kuwait Times and Kuwait News participated as media sponsors of the 18th Arab Media Forum, which opened on Sunday at St Regis Hotel under the slogan ... Read more »

HM the King Congratulates Ethiopia's Pres. on National Day

HM the King Congratulates Ethiopia’s Pres. on National Day Rabat – HM King Mohammed VI sent a congratulatory message to president of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, Sahle-Work Zewde, ... Read more »

Turmoil and progress: A brief history of the National Assembly

By Khaled Al-Abdulhadi KUWAIT: The history of the Kuwaiti parliament has been a mix of turmoil and significant leaps of progress, which have shaped the identity of Kuwaiti politics. The ... Read more »

NBK-Egypt reports KD 6.9 million in net profits

KUWAIT: National Bank of Kuwait-Egypt (NBK-Egypt) reported EGP 652.5 million (Equivalent to KD 6.9 million) in net profits in the three months ended March 31, 2023, compared to EGP 348.7 ... Read more »

I'm an avid cruiser who always recommends Carnival for first-timers. It's barely a step down from pricier competitors — and usually cheaper.

The Carnival Miracle is part of the Carnival Cruise Line’s 23-ship fleet. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images I’ve sailed on over 12 Disney, Royal Caribbean, and Carnival ships in the ... Read more »

Erdogan wins Turkish election runoff

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (Shutterstock) ALBAWABA – President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan wins the Turkish election runoff and will serve for another term, local Turkish media reported. Erdogan has competed ... Read more »

​​​​​​​Amir congratulates Erdogan on election victory

Tribune News NetworkDoha His Highness the Amir of State of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani congratulated Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on his victory in the Turkish presidential ... Read more »

Gold prices in Saudi Today Sunday 28 May 2023

Gold jewellery on display – Source: Shutterstock ALBAWABA – Gold prices in Saudi Arabia opened at SAR 7,297.50 per ounce today, Sunday, May 28, 09:01 a.m., according to Saudigoldprice.com, noting ... Read more »

International reactions to Erdogan's third win

Supporters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan celebrate near Taksim Mosque at the Taksim Square in Istanbul on the day of the Presidential runoff vote in Istanbul, on May 28, ... Read more »

Iran and Afghanistan face off over sharing Helmand waters

The Taliban authorities in Afghanistan are facing mounting pressure from Iran after lethal clashes on the border between the two sides, which reportedly led to the deaths of two Iranian ... Read more »

Bruno Fernandes nets Man Utd winner in comeback against Fulham to clinch third

Manchester United v Fulham – Premier League – Old Trafford Manchester United sealed third spot as Bruno Fernandes’ smart finish completed a 2-1 comeback win against Fulham on the final ... Read more »

Lira sails steady through Turkey runoff elections

The Turkish Lira lost 44% of its value in 2021 and 30% in 2022 – Source: Shutterstock Lira holds against US dollar, bearly, as Turkey’s runoff elections approach ALBAWABA – ... Read more »

Sharjah Chamber Discusses Potential Opening of Romanian Representative Office in Emirate to Boost Investment Climate

SHARJAH, 28th May, 2023 (WAM) — The Sharjah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI) has engaged in high-level discussions with a Romanian diplomatic delegation, exploring opportunities to strengthen economic cooperation ... Read more »

Aston Villa clinch European football after victory over Brighton

Aston Villa players celebrate after their match against Brighton and Hove Albion. AFP Aston Villa beat Brighton 2-1 at a raucous Villa Park to finished in seventh place in the ... Read more »

3 Reasons Why Shinechagtga Zoltsetseg Might Be The Most Exciting Featherweight In MMA

Japanese MMA fighter Yoshiki Nakahara fights Shinechagtga Zoltsetseg at After more than two years away from competition, Mongolian brawler Shinechagtga Zoltsetseg is set to make his much-anticipated return on June ... Read more »

Gold prices in Qatar Today Sunday 28 May 2023

Gold jewellery on display – Source: Shutterstock ALBAWABA – Gold prices in Qatar opened at a selling price of QR 7,083.44 per ounce today, Sunday, May 28, 08:32 a.m., according ... Read more »

AlUla's Jabal Ikmah added to Unesco's Memory of the World Register

AlUla’s striking Jabal Ikmah mountain has been added to Unesco’s Memory of the World Register. The list is meant to protect and preserve documentary heritage from around the world. Dating ... Read more »

KIB offers exclusive benefits for Visa Infinite credit cardholders

KIB Visa Infinite cardholders can enjoy many tailored benefits, including up to 5% cash back Kuwait International Bank (KIB) recently showcased the exclusive benefits of its Visa Infinite credit card, ... Read more »

Taliban strategy and collapse of ANDSF

We revert back to explore the reasons behind the collapse of Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF) in August 2022, as reasoned in February 2023 report by SIGAR (Special ... Read more »

A new look at Old Delhi: walking in the walled city of India's capital

I’m perched on a lofty Old Delhi rooftop gamely trying to fly a small red kite. Awkwardly tugging its string, the kite dips and yaws, eventually crashing on to a ... Read more »

Uneasy, unnerving: Yasir Hussain evokes discomfort as Javed Iqbal in 'Kukri' trailer

The long-awaited trailer for Abu Aleeha’s directorial, Kukri has finally arrived, and it promises an intense and gripping cinematic experience. With a talented cast, a haunting visual atmosphere, and a ... Read more »

Why perception matters

Pakistan suffers reputational damage by being seen to be perpetually in crisis, both internal and external, which hardly creates any positive international image of the country. Unfortunately, the recent events ... Read more »

AED 7B Worth Housing Projects Announced in Abu Dhabi

AED 7B Worth Housing Projects Announced in Abu Dhabi AED 7 billion worth of new housing projects, totaling 1,742 residential villas for residents, have been announced by the Abu Dhabi ... Read more »

Moderate weather forecast in heights, hot in rest of areas says JMD

Amman, May 25 (Petra) — A slight drop in Temperatures is expected Friday and weather will be moderate in most areas of the Kingdom, and relatively hot in the Jordan ... Read more »

Letter from Lhasa: A painsworthy journey of discovery

Letter from Lhasa: A painsworthy journey of discovery Members of a Chinese expedition team display the Chinese national flag at the summit of Mount Qomolangma on May 23, 2023. (Photo ... Read more »

2023 Ford Super Duty Customer Deliveries Begin

2023 Ford Super Duty production The automaker produces the truck at two plants in the US. Ford has started customer deliveries of the new 2023 Super Duty. After a lengthy ... Read more »

Manager asks girl eating chips to mute her mic, Lay’s India responds

Manager asks girl eating chips to mute her mic, Lay’s India responds New Delhi: People use social media to share stories about their daily life. These stories might range from ... Read more »

'Dream Girl 2' To 'Tiger 3': Bollywood’s Most-Awaited Sequels Of 2023

‘Dream Girl 2’ To ‘Tiger 3’: Bollywood’s Most-Awaited Sequels Of 2023 New Delhi: The second half of 2023 in Bollywood comes with a promise of some power-packed performances. From rib-tickling comedies ... Read more »
Kênh kiến thức kỹ năng, phát triển bản thân, hướng nghiệp, blog nhân sự