Alpha at Vandenberg
Firefly Aerospace’s first Alpha rocket is at Vandenberg Air Force Base for a first launch in the next couple of months. Credit: Firefly Aerospace

WASHINGTON — AE Industrial Partners is buying the part of Firefly Aerospace currently owned by Noosphere Venture Partners, which previously announced it was being forced by the federal government to sell its stake in the launch vehicle developer.

The companies announced Feb. 24 that AE Industrial Partners (AEI) was taking a “significant stake” in Firefly by purchasing it from Noosphere. The companies did not disclose the value of the deal or other terms.

Noosphere, a fund run by Ukrainian-born investor Max Polyakov, announced Dec. 29 it had retained an investment bank to sell its stake in Firefly at the request of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which reviews foreign investment in American companies.

The sale to AEI appears to contradict a Facebook post by Polyakov Feb. 16 where he claimed he was selling his stake in Firefly to co-founder Tom Markusic for one dollar. “I am giving up for 1 usd consideration all my 58% stake in Firefly to my co-founder and partner Tom,” he wrote. “Dear CFIUS, Air Force and 23 agencies of USA who betrayed me and judge me in all your actions for past 15 months. I hope now you are happy.” Firefly did not respond to a request for comment at the time about the post.

AEI has invested in several space companies. It created Redwire Space in 2020 through acquisitions of Adcole Maryland Aerospace, Deep Space Systems and Made In Space. Redwire has since acquired several other companies and went public through a SPAC merger in September 2021.

Beyond its role establishing Redwire, AEI invested in several other companies in the industry. It participated in a concurrent funding round called a PIPE for small launch vehicle company Virgin Orbit as part of a SPAC merger announced in August and in another PIPE as part of Terran Orbital’s SPAC merger announced in October. It also participated in Sierra Space’s $1.4 billion Series A funding round led by General Atlantic, Coatue and Moore Strategic Ventures in November.

In the statement, AEI noted its portfolio companies have done extensive work in the national security space sector. “AEI believes that leveraging this experience will be a critical advantage as Firefly looks to secure additional U.S. federal government contracts,” it stated.

The companies did not disclose when they expect the deal to close, noting it was subject to regulatory approvals. Firefly said in December, when Noosphere announced the sale, that it was halting preparations at Vandenberg Space Force Base for a second launch of its Alpha small launch vehicle. The inaugural Alpha launch failed to reach orbit in September when one of the rocket’s four first-stage engines shut down shortly after liftoff.

Firefly, though, has continued work at its Texas headquarters and test site. The company announced Feb. 17 that it had completed acceptance testing for the upper stage of the second Alpha rocket after previously completing testing of the first stage. “Now we’re really working to get back to Vandenberg and fly again,” Markusic said in a video update.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...