After the government ordered its largest stakeholder to liquidate its stock for national security grounds, Firefly Aerospace has paused plans for its next Alpha mission, which was previously slated for early 2022. The Noosphere Venture Partners, led by Max Polyakov, a Ukrainian-born investor, announced on December 29 that it will hire an investment banker to sell its stake in Firefly. According to the corporation, the sale was made at the recommendation of the CFIUS (Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States). Noosphere’s ideas were initially reported by Bloomberg.
Firefly announced in a message to SpaceNews that it is deferring plans for its second Alpha flight as a result of the request. “While this issue is being rectified, the government has made the decision to restrict our operations at the Vandenberg Space Force Base,” it said. “Firefly is working closely with our government partners to address any regulatory difficulties that may affect launch operations.”
A request for comment on the suspension in Firefly launch preparations was sent to Space Launch Delta 30, the Space Force unit in charge of launch activities at Vandenberg, on December 29. After Firefly Space Systems filed for bankruptcy in 2017, Polyakov purchased its assets. He put $200 million into the firm to revitalize it and enable it to continue developing its Alpha compact launch vehicle, which successfully launched into space for the first time in September. Noosphere owns “roughly 50%” of Firefly, according to the company’s statement.
It’s unclear what triggered the CFIUS application for Noosphere to sell its Firefly interest, but the business suggested in a statement that it was related to rising tensions between Ukraine and Russia, including fears that Russia will try to invade Ukraine in recent weeks. In a statement to SpaceNews, Noosphere Ventures said, “We are working diligently to resolve CFIUS’s issues most effectively and acceptably feasible.”
In the past, Polyakov’s ownership position had not been a major concern for Firefly. For its Alpha launch vehicle, the firm was granted access to the Space Launch Complex 2W situated at Vandenberg. It also received NASA contracts, including one for a lunar lander flight scheduled for 2023 under the Commercial Lunar Payload Services plan.
Prior to the CFIUS notification, Firefly had been downplaying Polyakov’s role in the company. Noosphere sold extra shares valued at $100 million in Firefly after the business obtained a $75 million Series A phase in May, citing “overwhelming demand” from investors. Last year, Polyakov was quietly removed from the list of board of directors, that now includes senior US government officials including Deborah Lee James, who is the ex-Secretary in charge of the Air Force, as well as Robert Cardillo, the ex-Director of National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.