Rocket builder Firefly resumes launch operations and raises $75 million

The company’s inaugural Alpha rocket will launch from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California on September 2, 2021.

Firefly Aerospace

WASHINGTON — Firefly Aerospace aims to make its second attempt to reach orbit with its Alpha rocket in the coming weeks, after receiving government approval to resume launch operations after a controversial investor sold its stake .

Firefly CEO Tom Markusic told CNBC that the company “worked methodically and cooperatively with the government” to complete the divestment, as well as add “safety protocols” to the company.

With the move complete, Markusic said the company now has “full access to our facilities to go back and launch.” Firefly will then ferry its second Alpha rocket from its headquarters near Austin, Texas to California, and aims to launch as soon as possible.

“We think it will take us about eight weeks to launch — so May is our goal,” Markusic told CNBC.

Private equity firm AE Industrial Partners last month acquired a stake in Firefly from Noosphere Ventures, the fund managed by Max Polyakov, a Ukrainian software entrepreneur who has come under scrutiny over security concerns. national security by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or CFIUS. The nature of the government’s concern about Polyakov is unclear. Polyakov had said his interest in Firefly stemmed from his desire to keep the technology out of Russian hands, according to Bloomberg.

The government halted Firefly launch operations at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California until Polyakov’s company divests its 50% stake. The divestiture came late last month, shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine.

Firefly also closed a $75 million fundraising round led by AE Industrial Partners, which Markusic says means the company’s broader growth plan is “fully funded.”

AEI partner Kirk Konert said the company’s stake and investment in Firefly was because it sees the company as “an undisputed leader” in the rocket industry.

“We believe Firefly will become a market leader in this size class in the launch market,” Konert told CNBC, adding that the company is “taking a broader view of space transportation” with its work toward a larger rocket. large called Beta, a transfer vehicle and lunar lander.

Konert declined to elaborate on Firefly’s valuation after the funding round, but said it was an increase from the company’s previous valuation of just over $1 billion in May 2021.

Firefly’s Alpha rocket, which stands 95 feet tall, is designed to launch up to 1,000 kilograms of payload into low Earth orbit, at a cost of $15 million per launch. This puts Firefly in the category of “medium lift” rockets, pitting it against several other companies, including Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit, ABL Space and Relativity Space.

Firefly launched its Alpha rocket for the first time in September, but the attempt to reach orbit failed in midair. One of the rocket’s four engines shut down due to an electrical connection failure, a problem Markusic said “was kind of a fluke” and was “very easy to fix”.

“The second flight is really a repeat of the first flight,” Markusic said. “We are convinced that we will no longer have this problem.”

The company aims to launch its third Alpha mission, which will be for NASA, about two months after the second.

Firefly plans to use the new funding to fund more Alpha rocket launches, further develop its largest Beta rocket, fund its Blue Ghost lunar lander and continue work on a space utility vehicle – also known as a “space tug”. – to transport satellites into single orbits after a launch. The company says its Blue Ghost lander recently completed a critical design review, with Firefly winning a $93 million contract from NASA to carry payloads to the moon’s surface in 2023.

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