At left, Tom Markusic, chief executive of Firefly. Credit: Tom Kimmell Photography

PASADENA, Calif. — Firefly Aerospace announced June 15 that Tom Markusic, co-founder of the launch vehicle and spacecraft developer, will step down as its chief executive but remain with the company as it prepares for its second launch.

The company said that Markusic would shift from chief executive to a new role of chief technical advisor, effective June 16. He will remain a member of the company’s board and a “significant minority investor” in the company.

The move comes four months after AE Industrial Partners (AEI), a private equity firm, agreed to acquire a “significant stake” in Firefly from Noosphere Venture Partners, which sold its interest in Firefly at the request of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. Noopshere is a fund run by Ukrainian-born investor Max Polyakov. In March, AEI said it was leading Firefly’s $75 million Series B round.

The statement suggested that Firefly’s new owners wanted new leadership for the company as it prepares a second launch of its Alpha rocket. That launch is expected no earlier than mid-July from Vandenberg Space Force Base, nearly a year after the first Alpha launch failed.

Firefly is also working on an orbital transfer vehicle and its Blue Ghost lunar lander, which will fly a mission for NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program in 2024. Firefly has started design work on a larger launch vehicle, Beta, whose first launch would be around the middle of the decade.

“With new ownership and funding, Firefly has been reinvigorated. The company is entering a new phase of growth,” Kirk Konert, partner at AEI, said in the statement. “We are confident that we will soon find the right person to build upon this momentum and collaborate with the talented Firefly team to help the company continue its success.”

“The future for Firefly is bright, and the time is right for a new leader with the necessary skills to lead the company into its next stage of growth and development,” Markusic said in the same statement.

Another AEI partner, Peter Schumacher, will serve as interim CEO while the company searches for a permanent successor. The company didn’t offer a timeline for that search process.

In an interview in April during Space Symposium, Markusic said he was happy that AEI had invested in Firefly. “They’re going to be a great partner for us,” he said. “They are a very different type of investor that really understands the industry, but also has very strong connections to the biggest financial institutions in the world.”

He added that AEI was pleased overall with the direction Firefly was going. “They like our business plan,” he said. “They want us to focus in a few areas, but overall, we’re doing the same things we’d set out to do on our five-year plan, but now for a really strong financial partner.”

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...