Sir Richard Branson has seen $106 million (£87 million) wiped from his wealth today after shares in his rocket venture tumbled, adding salt to the wound after the firm’s failed attempt at its first ever launch from UK soil last night.
New York-listed Virgin Orbit shares fell 21% in the opening minutes of trade on Wall Street, shaving $141 million from its market cap. Branson controls a 75% stake in the company, according to filings with the US securities regulator.
Although failed rocket launches can be common, the hotly-anticipated inaugural attempt by Virgin Orbit was seen as a major milestone for the UK’s ambitions to become a major hub for satellite launches. Currently, satellites developed in the UK have to be launched overseas, thwarting the global competitiveness of the industry.
Virgin Orbit said its 747 aircraft carrier successfully released its rocket after departing from the runway Spaceport Cornwall late last night, but at some point during the firing of the rocket’s second stage engine, the system “experienced an anomaly” ending the mission prematurely.
Virgin Orbit boss Dan Hart said: “The first-time nature of this mission added layers of complexity that our team professionally managed through; however, in the end a technical failure appears to have prevented us from delivering the final orbit.
“We will work tirelessly to understand the nature of the failure, make corrective actions, and return to orbit as soon as we have completed a full investigation and mission assurance process.”
A new date for the firm’s next attempt at a rocket launch has yet to be set. Branson has a net wealth of $5 billion, according to an estimate by Bloomberg.