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Branson’s Virgin Orbit to recall small team from near-total furlough

Branson's Virgin Orbit to recall small team from near-total furlough
Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit, prior to its takeoff on a key drop test of its high-altitude launch system for satellites from Mojave, California, U.S. July 10, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Blake

By Joey Roulette

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit plans to recall on Thursday a small group of employees from a near company-wide furlough to work on rocket upgrades, an email to staff said, with the company confirming some team members would return.

The number of employees due to come back to work at the cash-strapped company was not clear, but in the email seen by Reuters sent on Tuesday evening, Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart said it involved a “small subset” of employees.

The furlough of nearly all of Virgin Orbit’s some 750 staff began on March 16, after the company struggled in recent months to raise funds and suffered a high-profile rocket failure in January during its first launch attempt out of Britain.

The move, in which only employees critical to company functions would remain, was intended to buy Virgin Orbit more time to finalize an investment plan and stave off bankruptcy.

The small group of employees asked to return to work had been notified directly by their managers, according to a person familiar with the plan, while those not tapped would have their furlough extended to Monday, Hart said in the email.

Discussions over Virgin Orbit’s investment plan to stave off bankruptcy were ongoing, said a second person familiar with the process. The people spoke anonymously to discuss internal company matters.

Hart said in the email that “several teams have been working around the clock as we continue to engage with investors and other stakeholders.”

A Virgin Orbit spokesperson said in a statement that the company was targeting an “incremental resumption” of operations to support its next launch.

“Our first step will begin Thursday of this week, when we plan to return a subset of our team to focus on critical areas for our next mission,” the company said.

Virgin Orbit shares fell to a fresh record low close of $0.44 on Tuesday.