Firefly raises $75 million as it prepares for second launch

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WASHINGTON — Launch vehicle developer Firefly Aerospace has raised $75 million in a new funding round as the company, now under new ownership, prepares for a second launch of its Alpha rocket this spring.

Private equity firm AE Industrial Partners, or AEI, announced March 22 that it led the $75 million Series B round in Firefly, a month after it announced it was acquiring the “significant stake” of the space transportation company that had been owned by Noosphere Ventures for an undisclosed sum. AEI said in the statement that it has closed that acquisition.

The companies did not disclose the valuation of the round other than it was higher than a $75 million Series A round Firefly raised in May 2021 that valued the company at more than $1 billion.

“Firefly now has the resources to deliver new innovations in space launch vehicles,” Kirk Konert, partner at AEI, said in a statement about the funding round. “Having recently notched some significant milestones, the company is at an inflection point, and our investments will allow Firefly to take advantage of the significant opportunities ahead.”

“These investments allow Firefly to build on the momentum from last year’s financing, and better position us for future growth,” Tom Markusic, chief executive of Firefly, said in the statement.

Firefly has been developing the Alpha launch vehicle, which made its first orbital launch attempt last September. The failure of one of the four engines in the rocket’s first stage seconds after liftoff kept the vehicle from reaching orbit.

The company, though, halted work at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California for a second launch in December after Noosphere, owned by Ukrainian entrepreneur Max Polyakov, announced it would sell its approximately 50% stake in Firefly at the request of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS).

Polyakov said in the statement that the AEI deal “provides a clear path for Firefly to achieve lasting success,” adding that Noosphere returned “a multiple of our original investment” into the launch company.

With the sale complete, Firefly says it’s now preparing for a second Alpha launch from Vandenberg in the second quarter of the year. The company recently completed testing of both stages of that Alpha vehicle at its Texas test site ahead of shipment to Vandenberg.

“We did learn a lot from the first flight and fixed the minor problems, and are ready to get back to the launch pad,” Markusic said in a video shown during a session of the Satellite 2022 conference March 21. He said that the first Alpha vehicle required 18 tests “to get it fully functional,” while for the second flight, “both the vehicle and the team performed flawlessly on the first attempt.”

Jason Mello, president of Firefly’s space transport services division, emphasized during the conference panel Firefly’s work beyond Alpha, including its Blue Ghost lunar lander it is building for NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program. That lander recently completed its critical design review.

“We’re going to be back on the pad, hopefully in a few months, to be able to launch Flight 2 and become orbital,” he said of Alpha.

Firefly is also continuing planning for a larger vehicle, called Beta. “It will accelerate our look at the entire marketplace,” he said, with an eye toward filling the gap in the market created by the withdrawal of the Soyuz. “There’s a number of customers out there that are looking at what we can do, and we’re providing very unique options to get there where they need to go at the end of the day.”