Firefly Aerospace raises $75 million to become a space unicorn
The company is preparing its first Alpha missile for launch at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.
Firefly Aerospace raised $ 75 million in private capital, the Texas-based space company said Tuesday as it prepares for the first launch of its Alpha rocket.
“This gives us the opportunity to have multiple successful Alpha [rocket] starts successfully completing many of the most important milestones for the Blue Ghost [lunar] Lander program, “Tom Markusic, co-founder and CEO of Firefly, told CNBC.
The company’s most recent funding was led by DADA Holdings, a private investment firm primarily holding positions in metals and mining companies. Several other investors participated in the round, including the Astera Institute, which Jed McCaleb will attend as a representative on Firefly’s board of directors. McCaleb is best known for his roles in the cryptocurrency landscape.
Markusic declined to give Firefly’s rating after that increase, merely stating that it was “just over a billion dollars” – making it the newest space company to achieve unicorn status. Firefly’s fundraiser was also unique in that the company itself offered equity of $ 75 million, while majority investor Noosphere Ventures sold $ 100 million of its stake. Noosphere – based in Menlo Park, California but led by Ukrainian investor Max Polyakov – now owns less than 50% of Firefly.
“It only makes economic sense to have a more diverse cap,” said Markusic, emphasizing the inclusion of US investors in Firefly.
Firefly also stated its intention to raise an additional $ 300 million later that year after launching its first Alpha missile. While the $ 75 million will fund its near-term development plans, the company plans to expand its services to the entire space industry. Firefly is best known for its alpha and planned beta launch business, but is also working on a lunar lander called the Blue Ghost and a spacecraft – also known as a “space tug” – to transport satellites into unique orbits after a launch.
“We structured the company code completely differently from the start,” said Markusic. “We are not a missile company, we are not a launch vehicle company. We are an end-to-end space transportation company.”
A depiction of the Genesis moon lander.
The company is currently looking into whether its second fundraiser this year will be another private round or possibly a SPAC deal, a path other space companies have taken to raise significant amounts of capital. Markusic said Firefly would “find out” about this in the next few months, but emphasized that he would like to achieve more milestones by then.
A SPAC, or special purpose vehicle, acquires capital from an IPO and uses the proceeds to buy a private company and bring it public.
“I think a company should have built a steady source of income and demonstrated the fundamental technology that underpins the company’s business plan before going public,” said Markusic.
First alpha rocket launch
At the Firefly launch center at Vandenberg Air Force Base.
Meanwhile, Firefly is focused on its first alpha rocket launch, which has been delayed since late last year.
Firefly’s Alpha rocket is 95 feet tall and can put up to 1,000 kilograms of payload into low-earth orbit – at a cost of $ 15 million per launch. This puts Firefly in the medium-lift rocket category and competes against several other companies, including Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit, ABL Space and Relativity Space.
Markusic said Firefly “encountered some site readiness issues” at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, and also had a significant delay from a supplier of the missile’s flight cancellation system – a key element required for the missile’s launch .
“Only from our side we didn’t finish the starting place as quickly as we had imagined. We somehow miscalculated where we were ready, and that’s up to us. We didn’t do that well,” said Markusic .
The CEO added that Firefly hopes to launch Alpha by mid-June, but stressed that an initial launch brings “many unknowns” with it.
“We will continue to work on the problems and start them at some point,” said Markusic.
On the regulatory approvals side, Firefly received its launch license from the Federal Aviation Administration a few weeks ago, which Markusic said was “the biggest hurdle in getting permits” for launch.
Additionally, a Federal Communications Commission filed in November found that Firefly’s FCC license had been requested from the Department of Justice’s Foreign Investment Review division for review. The DOJ said it would examine Firefly’s license application “for any national security and law enforcement concerns.”
Markusic “didn’t really hear much” more about this review, saying the DOJ “dropped” the review and Firefly obtained its FCC license earlier this year. In particular, Firefly is waiting for a second FCC license after adjusting the alpha launch trajectory, but Markusic expects to get approval for that license “every day”.
“From a regulatory perspective, I think we are in good shape,” said Markusic.
Markusic, who prior to Firefly worked at Elon Musk ‘SpaceX, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, and Branson’s Virgin Galactic, views the space industry as collaborative rather than competitive.
“We’re all brothers in arms starting a new space revolution, and in a way we’re all on the same team – we’re making space accessible,” said Markusic.
In a broader sense, he believes that “there is a lot of mutual respect” because it is difficult what any company is trying to achieve in space.
“This is really very, very difficult stuff. There are much easier ways to make money in the world,” added Markusic. “It’s like the toughest technical problem, and the financial problem is like the toughest financial problem that you can solve as well.”
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Correction: In an earlier version of this story, the total amount of equity raised by Firefly was incorrectly reported.