Firefly hits a big milestone with the success of its first mission.
Firefly’s Alpha joins a launch market that is getting more and more crowded.
Washington: This weekend, a rocket made by Firefly Aerospace went into orbit for the first time. The company’s CEO said on Monday that this was an important step that kicks off its launch business and opens up new funding opportunities for growth.
Firefly, which is based near Austin, Texas, launched its two-stage Alpha rocket from a U.S. Space Force base in Southern California in the early hours of Saturday morning. It sent its first payloads into orbit after its first attempt, which happened more than a year ago but failed in mid-flight.
“Everything changed for this company on Saturday morning,” Firefly CEO Bill Weber told Reuters. “This was just a test flight, so we tried not to get too excited.”
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Firefly’s Alpha joins a launch market that is getting more and more crowded. It was the fifth private U.S. rocket to reach orbit since 2008, after the Falcon 9 from Elon Musk’s privately held SpaceX and rockets from public companies Rocket Lab USA Inc (RKLB.O), Virgin Orbit Holdings Inc (VORB.O), and Astra Space Inc (ASTR.O).
After years of problems, including being saved from bankruptcy in 2017 by Noosphere Ventures, which was started by an entrepreneur from Ukraine named Max Polyakov, Firefly was finally able to complete its mission.Concerns about U.S. national security forced Noosphere to sell its majority stake to the private equity giant AE Industrial Partners earlier this year. This ended a crisis that had halted Firefly’s launch business for several months.
In March, AEI led a Series B funding round for Firefly that brought in $75 million.
The company plans to launch Alpha six times in 2023 and twelve times in 2024. Each launch costs about $15 million.
Weber said that Saturday’s mission could help Firefly get more money to finish building factories in Cape Canaveral, Florida, where Alpha’s second planned launchpad will be built. It could also speed up work on MLV, a bigger rocket that the company plans to build with Northrop Grumman (NOC.N).
Weber said the company might try to raise more money, but he said they wouldn’t go public. He said that Firefly is working on private development of Alpha’s production line, the MLV rocket, and its new, more powerful engine.
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Weber said that if Firefly does another private raise, the goal would be to make the company cash flow positive and that it would be “the last raise that this company needs to do.”