Alpha static fire
Firefly is gearing up for a second launch of its Alpha rocket on Sept. 11 after conducting a static-fire test of the vehicle in August. Credit: Firefly Aerospace

TITUSVILLE, Fla. — Firefly Aerospace has hired an executive with extensive experience in aerospace and defense as its next CEO as the company gears up for its second orbital launch attempt.

Firefly announced Sept. 1 that it hired Bill Weber as its new chief executive, effective immediately. Weber takes over from Peter Schumacher, a partner at majority owner AE Industrial Partners (AEI) who had served as interim chief executive since mid-June, when co-founder Tom Markusic stepped down as chief executive.

Weber was previously president and chief executive of KeyW Corporation, a cyberspace operations and geospatial intelligence company serving the national security community. Jacobs acquired KeyW in 2019 for $815 million.

Before KeyW, he was an executive at several other companies supporting the federal government in national security and diplomacy, including XLA, Kaseman and GTSI Corporation. He also was a founding partner of First Light Acquisition Corporation, a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) seeking to merge with a company in the aerospace and defense markets.

“Bill is a proven leader with an impressive record of helping companies successfully navigate change, making him the clear choice to lead Firefly during this transitional growth period,” Schumacher said in a statement. “His deep experience and strong relationships across many areas of the aerospace and defense landscape will be invaluable as Firefly transitions to full-rate production across its portfolio of products.”

Bill Weber, CEO of Firefly Aerospace. Credit: Buchanan-Edwards

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to lead a company on the forefront of critical, leading-edge space transportation solutions,” Weber said in the statement. “I look forward to collaborating with the Firefly and AEI teams at this critical juncture in the company’s development.”

The hiring of Weber comes as Firefly gears up for its second attempt to launch its Alpha rocket. The company announced Aug. 17 that, after completing a static-fire test of the rocket’s first stage, it was planning a launch for Sept. 11 from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. The “To the Black” mission, scheduled for liftoff at 6 p.m. Eastern, will carry several cubesats to deploy into low Earth orbit.

The launch will come a little more than a year after the failed inaugural Alpha launch, also from Vandenberg. In that launch, one of four engines in the rocket’s first stage shut down 15 seconds into flight because of a faulty electrical connection. Range safety terminated the flight about two and a half minutes after liftoff.

In addition to its Alpha launch vehicle, Firefly announced Aug. 8 an agreement with Northrop Grumman to partner on a new version of the Antares rocket. The Antares 330 will use a new first stage provided by Firefly, replacing the existing Antares first stage built in Ukraine and using Russian engines. The first Antares 330 launch is scheduled for as soon as 2024.

Firefly is also continuing development of its Blue Ghost lunar lander, part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. Will Coogan, chief engineer for the lander at Firefly, said at an Aug. 24 meeting the Lunar Exploration Analysis Group that the company has 50 people working fulltime on Blue Ghost for a 2024 mission to Mare Crisium.

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...