Tom Markusic Out as Firefly CEO 3 Months After AEI Takes Majority Stake in Rocket Company

Tom Markusic and Lauren Lyons in front of Firefly Alpha rocket on the pad at Vandenberg Space Force Base. (Credit: Firefly Aerospace)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Firefly Aerospace co-founder Tom Markusic is out as CEO, a move that comes three months after AE Industrial Partners (AEI) led a $75 million Series B funding round and completed its acquisition of a majority stake in the rocket company.

Firefly announced this week that Markusic transitioned to the role of full-time board member and chief technical advisor on Thursday, June 16. He remains “a significant minority investor” in the company, which is preparing for the second flight test of its Alpha small-satellite booster.

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AE Industrial Partners Leads $75 Million Series B Growth Equity Investment in Firefly Aerospace, a Leading Provider of Launch and In-Space Vehicles

AEI Concurrently Closes its Previously Announced Strategic Investment in Firefly Aerospace

BOCA RATON, Fla., March 22, 2022 (AE Industrial Partners PR) — AE Industrial Partners, LP (“AEI”), a U.S-based private equity firm specializing in aerospace, defense and government services, space, power and utility services, and specialty industrial markets, announced today that it led a $75 million Series B financing round in Firefly Aerospace (“Firefly” or the “Company”), an emerging leader in economical launch vehicles, spacecraft, and in-space services. The Series B investment will support Firefly’s next stage of growth by providing capital for future Alpha flights, the Blue Ghost Lunar Lander Program, and the development of additional launch and in-space solutions. Concurrently, AEI completed its previously reported acquisition of Noosphere Venture Partners LP’s (“Noosphere Ventures”) stake in the Company. The transaction values Firefly above its May 2021 Series A valuation of more than $1 billion.

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AE Industrial Partners Reaches a Definitive Agreement to Acquire a Significant Stake in Firefly Aerospace, a Leading Provider of Launch and In-Space Vehicles

Definitive Agreement on Acquisition by U.S.-based Investment Firm will Fuel Firefly’s Continued Journey as a Leader in End-to-End Space Transportation

BOCA RATON, Fla., Feb. 24, 2022 (AEI PR) — AE Industrial Partners, LP (“AEI”), a U.S-based private equity firm specializing in aerospace, defense & government services, space, power and utility services, and specialty industrial markets, announced today that it has reached a definitive agreement to acquire a significant stake in Firefly Aerospace (“Firefly” or “the Company”), an emerging leader in economical launch vehicles, spacecraft, and in-space services, from Noosphere Venture Partners LP (“Noosphere”). Transaction closing is subject to the satisfaction of regulatory approvals, including Hart-Scott-Rodino (“HSR”) clearance. Other terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

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Firefly Aerospace Owner Max Polyakov Sells Stake to Tom Markusic

Max Polyakov

Firefly Aerospace majority stakeholder Max Polyakov announced he was selling his shares to company co-founder and CEO Tom Markusic in a bitter message on his Facebook page.

I am giving up for 1 usd consideration all my 58% stake in Firefly to my co-founder and partner Tom. 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 . History will judge all of you guys. Max love Ukraine and yes I have Ukrainian passport and I am Founder of Firefly !!! Bye my “bird” and at the end of the days I proud what I done for my Land soul and heritage !!!

CFIUS is the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. Late last year, the committee required that Polyakov, who is Ukrainian, sell his stake in the company. Bloomberg reported:

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Firefly Aerospace Halts Launch Activities at Vandenberg as Majority Owner Polyakov Forced to Sell Stake in Company

Bloomberg reports that Firefly Aerospace has stopped preparations for the second launch of its Alpha booster due to a decision by the U.S. government to force the company’s majority owner, Ukrainian entrepreneur, Max Polyakov to sell his majority stake in the company.

Government and aerospace industry officials have expressed objections to Polyakov’s control of the company amid fears that valuable technology could make its way to Ukraine, Russia or other nations trying to develop rocket programs. Despite putting more than $200 million of his fortune into Firefly, Polyakov agreed to step down from the company’s board and Firefly’s day-to-day activities in late 2020 to help make it easier for the company to win U.S. government and military contracts and ease some of the underlying tensions. 

In late November, however, Polyakov received a letter from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., or CFIUS, that called out national security worries and requested that Polyakov and his investment firm Noosphere Venture Partners sell off their roughly 50% stake in Firefly. Polyakov agreed to this demand, according to his spokespeople, while maintaining that his ownership of Firefly poses no national security threats. “Noosphere Ventures announced today that it intends to retain an investment banking firm to assist in the sale of Noosphere Ventures’ ownership interest in Firefly Aerospace,” Polyakov’s company said in a statement. 

While educated as an obstetrician-gynecologist, Polyakov made his fortune through business software ventures and internet gaming, dating and marketing sites. He rescued Firefly from bankruptcy in 2017 and poured money into the company to revitalize it. In September, Firefly conducted its first rocket launch from Vandenberg Space Force Base in Southern California. The rocket didn’t reach orbit but performed well for an initial launch, and the company has been racing to fire up a second one.

The U.S. government halted Firefly’s current rocket launch operations at Vandenberg as the ownership issue with Polyakov plays out, according to two people familiar with the situation. The clashes between Polyakov and the U.S. haven’t been previously reported.

Firefly Aerospace Completes Oversubscribed $75M Series A and $100M Secondary Transaction

CEDAR PARK, Texas, May 4, 2021 (Firefly Aerospace PR) – Firefly Aerospace Inc., a leading provider of economical and dependable launch vehicles, spacecraft, and in-space services, today announced the successful completion of its Series A financing. The $75 million Series A, which valued the company at greater than $1 billion, was led by DADA Holdings, with participation by Astera Institute, Canon Ball LLC, Reuben Brothers Limited, SMS Capital Investment LLC, Raven One Ventures, The XBTO Ventures and other investors. The Series A capital raise team was led by Darren Ma, Firefly CFO. Investor outreach was led by Eric Salwan, Firefly Co-founder and Director of Commercial Business Development. Jed McCaleb, representing Astera Institute, will join Firefly’s Board of Directors.

Interest in the Series A round far exceeded the $75 million equity being offered. In an effort to satisfy the overwhelming demand in the Series A round, Firefly’s seed investor, Noosphere Ventures, sold approximately $100 million of its holdings of Firefly equity to certain Series A participants and other investors through secondary transactions. Following the forthcoming launch of its flagship Alpha small launch vehicle, Firefly intends to raise an additional $300 million later in 2021 to fund its ambitious growth plans through 2025.

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Firefly Aerospace Backer Max Polyakov Acquires Satellite Maker Dragonfly Aerospace

STELLENBOSCH, South Africa (Dragonfly Aerospace PR) — Dr. Max Polyakov – the international technology entrepreneur, investor and economist who is revolutionizing the space industry – today announced the completion of his acquisition of a majority stake in Dragonfly Aerospace, a South African NewSpace company with over 20 years of proven heritage in high-performance imaging satellites and payloads.

This purchase cements Dragonfly Aerospace’s status as a critical component of the vertically integrated space ecosystem being built by Dr. Polyakov and Noosphere Ventures that includes Firefly, the competitively-priced space launch provider, EOS Data Analytics (EOSDA), a satellite data and analytics company with its own radar and optical satellite constellations, and SETS, a space electric thruster systems firm.

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NASA Awards Firefly Aerospace $93.3M to Deliver Suite of Payloads to the Moon in 2023

Blue Ghost lander on the moon. (Credit: Firefly Aerospace)

CEDAR PARK, Texas, February 4, 2021 (Firefly Aerospace PR) – Firefly Aerospace, Inc., a leading provider of economical and dependable launch vehicles, spacecraft, and in-space services, announced that NASA has awarded Firefly $93.3 million to deliver a suite of ten NASA-sponsored science and technology demonstration payloads to Mare Crisium in the Moon’s Crisium basin. Firefly’s ‘Blue Ghost’ lunar lander will deliver the payloads to the lunar surface in 2023 in fulfillment of Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) task order 19D, managed by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

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Firefly Aerospace Documentary Trailer

Video Caption: «Launching a rocket into space is the hardest job you can choose».

The official trailer of the documentary about Firefly Aerospace, a Ukrainian-American rocket company, owned by Max Polyakov.

The fascinating and twisting path of Firefly Aerospace from its inception to the planned launch of Alpha rocket in 2020.

How Firefly Aerospace has survived and developed into one of the big names in private space exploration alongside such well-known ventures as SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic and others. Elon Musk, Jeffrey Bezos, Richard Branson and Max Polyakov – what do these people have in common? How their businesses are affecting the modern space industry.

The creators of the film, Edwards Media studio based in Austin (Texas, USA), began making an independent documentary about Firefly Aerospace in 2016. They strived to capture everything to make a complete story to show how this company is changing the world.

Subscribe to our channel to learn about the development of the space industry in Ukraine and the world. Here we collect various business stories about the international entrepreneur in the fields of space technology and IT – Max Polyakov. He is the managing partner of Noosphere Ventures Investment Fund and the founder of Firefly Aerospace, EOS DA, SETS, Renatus, Maxpay, and others. He is also the ideological inspiration of the Noosphere Association.

🔘 Firefly Aerospace is a private aerospace company that develops light launch vehicles designed to launch cargo into space. The first launch of the Alpha launch vehicle is scheduled for 2020.