Firefly Raises $75 Million and Pushes On With Rocket Development

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Multimillionaire Max Polyakov took Firefly Aerospace Inc. from the research lab to the launchpad. Now a group of investors has bet that the company’s business can stretch all the way to the moon.

On Tuesday, Firefly revealed that it has raised $75 million just ahead of the launch of the company’s first rocket. The money comes from a group of investors including DADA Holdings, Raven One Ventures, and Canon Ball. The company also announced that Jed McCaleb, a cryptocurrency billionaire, has invested in Firefly and will join its board of directors. Firefly expects to try and raise another $300 million later this year, the company said.

Based just outside Austin, Firefly has spent the past few years building a rocket meant to carry satellites into orbit. Called Alpha, the rocket can fly about 2,200 pounds of cargo, which makes it a midsize machine between the large rockets of Elon Musk’s SpaceX and the smaller rockets built by Rocket Lab and others. Over the past few months, Firefly has been preparing for its first launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Southern California and hopes to fly in June.

Polyakov, a Ukrainian businessman, pulled Firefly out of bankruptcy in 2017 and subsequently put $200 million into the company. During this latest investment round, his firm Noosphere Ventures sold a $100 million stake in Firefly to unnamed parties. Polyakov remains the largest Firefly shareholder. The company now is valued at more than $1 billion, though company officials declined to provide an exact figure.

 The startup has grand ambitions to build an even larger rocket than Alpha, a lunar lander, and one day even a reusable spaceplane. Earlier this year, Firefly secured a $93.3 million contract to take 10 scientific payloads to the moon on behalf of NASA in 2023. The scientific devices will fly aboard Firefly’s planned lunar lander called Blue Ghost. “Noosphere is proud to have supported the early development of Firefly Aerospace and the Alpha launch vehicle,” Polyakov said in a statement. “As Firefly transitions into commercial service and embarks on additional ambitious programs such as lunar payload delivery, the time is right to expand the Firefly investor base.”

Tom Markusic, Firefly’s chief executive officer, had been living in California preparing for the launch of Alpha, which has been delayed several months. Markusic, a veteran of NASA, SpaceX, and Virgin Galactic, has run Firefly from its earliest days, through the bankruptcy and to this point where the company’s value could soar if its rocket reaches orbit.

According to Markusic, the current funding should carry Firefly through this year. If the launch goes well, the company would likely be able to raise the additional funds on better terms for its investors and use that money to fuel several more years of new vehicle development. In mid-May, Firefly plans to conduct what’s called a static test fire of Alpha where the rocket is held down on the launchpad while all of its systems are checked. “It’s everything but letting the rocket go,” Markusic said in an interview.

Firefly is waiting for the delivery of an electronics component tied to the flight termination system that’s used to destroy the rocket if it veers off course. If the component arrives later this month, Firefly expects to try and launch in mid-June. “The good news is that we are building the second vehicle at full speed,” Markusic said. “Given these delays, it will shorten the time between the first and second launch.”

The private space market has been on a tear of late, with small rocket makers like Astra and Virgin Orbit conducting launches that put them in position to compete with Rocket Lab. Meanwhile, other smaller-rocket makers have raised hundreds of millions in funding, and so too have a wave of new satellite companies. Both Blue Origin, which is owned by Jeff Bezos, and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic hope to soon fly tourists to the edge of space, while SpaceX plans to take people around the moon.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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