Sat. Oct 1st, 2022
Firefly Aerospace is aiming for a mid-March launch for its Alpha rocket.
enlarge Firefly Aerospace is aiming for a mid-March launch for its Alpha rocket.

Firefly Aerospace

As Firefly Aerospace nears the debut of its Alpha rocket, with a first launch attempt expected from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California in mid-March, the company’s CEO is looking ahead to the future.

“The company is now at a turning point where we are in this hardcore development mode for Alpha,” Firefly chief executive Tom Markusic said in an interview. “Our goals for the future are to move from a development company to an operating company. And of course we are also interested in the next phase of the company’s growth, which is to move beyond launch vehicles and place an increasing emphasis on spacecraft.”

To that end, the company is aggressively raising new funding and shaking up its board of directors. Gone are investor Max Polyakov and two senior members of the US government community. All of this is because Firefly is expected to roll its completed rocket to its California launch site within two weeks and conduct one or more hot-fire tests. The company expects a launch between March 15 and 22.


Firefly aims to become an “end-to-end” space company that can both launch payloads into Earth orbit and provide a spacecraft to deliver materials to the Moon or elsewhere. To achieve these goals, of course, more capital is needed.

When the company faced a cash shortage in 2016 – Firefly had to short-circuit – a Ukrainian investor named Max Polyakov stepped in to provide $210 million in financing. Markusic said about 10 percent of those funds remain, and the company now aims to raise $350 million. This will allow for the further development of a production line for Alpha, which can launch up to 1 ton into low Earth orbit, and the development of its successor, Beta, as well as a tug-like spacecraft.

Markusic said Firefly has not yet made a decision about seeking additional funding from private investors or pursuing public options. The company has had interest from several special acquisition companies, or SPACs.

“We haven’t made a final decision yet,” said Markusic. “We have options for private rounds and we certainly have a lot of interest from a few SPACs. So we’re really just evaluating the terms of the different offers and we’ll come to that decision as the board.” He expects the board to make a decision later this month.

Shake the plate

Firefly also announced Wednesday morning that it has changed its board of directors, which now includes Markusic, Deborah Lee James and Robert Cardillo. James, who will serve as chairman of the board, has had a long career in government, including from 2013 to 2017 as Secretary of the Air Force. Cardillo was the sixth director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, from 2014 to 2019.

Both new board members bring national security concerns to Firefly and are strong indications that the company plans to provide launch services, and perhaps more, to the US Department of Defense.

“These two new board members are clearly established individuals with strong national security backgrounds,” said Markusic. “They can give our government clients complete confidence that the company is controlled and run by people who have the best interests of the United States of America in mind. They have held the highest positions you can find in these fields.”

The Alpha missile is displayed before integration at Vandenberg Air Force Base.
enlarge The Alpha missile is displayed before integration at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Firefly Aerospace

Among those no longer on the board is Firefly’s financial savior, Polyakov, a Ukrainian living in Edinburgh. This is a substantial change, as it shifts the company’s primary financier from a decision-maker role to that of a shareholder. Markusic said Polyakov has shareholder rights, but Firefly’s board now runs the company. Polyakov remains Firefly’s largest shareholder.

“These changes are part of Firefly’s logical growth and development,” Polyakov told Ars. “I am extremely proud of what we have achieved so far. I have full confidence in Tom, his team and the new board members for the future.”

Some concerns had previously been raised about Polyakov’s background (discussed in this article). However, this move is more thanks to having an all-American board of directors, which should bolster Firefly’s efforts to partner with the defense community.

“We are proactive to align company leadership with our government customer base, and have a board that does that best,” said Markusic.

Note: The last paragraph of this article has been updated to more accurately reflect the intent of Markusic’s comment. The story has also been updated with a comment from Polyakov.

By akfire1

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