In September, Firefly announced the first successful ground test of its rocket engine at its testing facility in Briggs, Texas. Credit: Firefly Space Systems

WASHINGTON — The assets of Firefly Space Systems, a company that was developing a small launch vehicle before encountering financial problems last year, will be sold this week in an auction organized by a little-known company backed by a Ukrainian entrepreneur.

An undated public notice states that “virtually all” of the assets of Firefly Space Systems will be sold at a public auction scheduled for March 16 in Menlo Park, California. Those assets include the company’s physical assets as well as “general intangibles” that include patents and other intellectual property.

The auction was announced by EOS Launcher, Inc., a company described in the announcement as the secured party in a loan agreement with Firefly dated Oct. 20. That agreement, whose specifics are not described in the notice, is dated three weeks after Firefly announced it was furloughing its staff because of financial problems stemming from an investment that fell through.

Thomas Markusic, co-founder and chief executive of Firefly, said in an October interview that the company was looking to raise short-term capital at the time to keep the company running for four months while considering its options. Those options, he said then, could include a sale of the company.

The public notice states that prospective bidders must provide a $100,000 deposit and also deposit funds for their proposed maximum bid into an account 24 hours before the auction. EOS Launcher, though, reserved the right to bid without making an advance deposit.

EOS Launcher is a company incorporated in Delaware on Jan. 27, according to filings with the state’s Division of Corporations. The company registered with California’s Secretary of State on Feb. 21, giving a mailing address in Menlo Park that is the same as the location of the auction mentioned in the public notice.

The president of EOS Launcher, according to the public notice, is Maxym Polyakov. In his profile on the social networking site LinkedIn, Polyakov identified himself as founder and chief executive of “Private Space Projects” since January 2016.

“In the early 2016 I’ve launched a project called Earth Observing System (EOS),” his description of Private Space Projects reads. The company, he said, intends to provide “the full circle of space-related services” including launch vehicles, spacecraft, ground stations and “proprietary satellite data, processed through our unique analytical engine.”

“By 2017, EOS will be listening to the ‘social and commercial pulse of mankind on the planet,’” the description states. That effort appears to include EOS Data Analytics, a company that offers a platform for large-scale processing of Earth imaging data.

Polyakov, who has a doctorate in international economics from the Dnepropetrovsk National University in Ukraine, has been involved in a number of other companies outside of the space field. Those companies range from an advertising technology company, Hitdynamics, to online dating company Cupid. He is also a managing partner at Noosphere Ventures, a fund that has invested in EOS Data Analytics and Aquila Space, a remote sensing smallsat company now part of Astro Digital.

Polyakov did not respond to a request for comment in an email to the address provided in the public notice. Bruce Fryer, a spokesman for Firefly Space Systems, also did not respond to a request for comment. The Firefly web site makes no mention of the impending asset sale.

Firefly was one of many companies that, in recent years, announced plans to develop small launch vehicles to serve the growing smallsat market. It was developing a rocket called the Alpha capable of placing up to 200 kilograms into sun-synchronous orbit for several million dollars.

In a November statement, the company said that it had letters of intent from potential customers seeking 42 launches through 2021, which the company valued at more than $300 million. The only launch contract Firefly had announced, though, was an award from NASA’s Venture Class Launch Services program in October 2015, for one launch at a price of $5.5 million.

Firefly had raised about $70 million through a combination of equity, grants and debt, co-founder Michael Blum said at a conference last summer. That included $1 million provided by Space Florida, the state’s space development agency, in a June 2015 secured convertible promissory note disclosed in the public notice. That note was subsequently acquired by EOS Launcher from Space Florida.

Dale Ketcham, chief of strategic alliances at Space Florida, confirmed in a March 14 interview that Space Florida provided $1 million to Firefly as an incentive for launching from Cape Canaveral. He said that, after Firefly encountered financial problems, EOS Launcher approached the agency and agreed to buy the promissory note at face value.

Ketcham predicted there would be more sales and mergers of companies as entrepreneurial sectors of the space industry mature. “It’s sometimes messy, but in the long run is a very healthy development,” he said.

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...