US Government Asking Max Polyakov to Sell Stakes in Firefly Aerospace

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( — February 23, 2022) — On the ground of national safety concerns, the US authorities issued a statement asking Max Polyakov, a prominent Ukrainian tech entrepreneur, to sell his stakes in a US-based rocket company Firefly Aerospace Inc.

Firefly is a private aerospace company with a manufacturing facility based near Austin, Texas. For years now, Maxim  Polyakov has been backing up Firefly with funds from his Ukrainian software empire. The US government and aerospace companies in the US have voiced their concerns about a potential data leak to non-allied states working on rocket programs of their own, particularly Russia. And even though Polyakov’s investment company Noosphere Ventures has already invested over $200 million into Firefly, Dr. Max Polyakov has agreed to step down from Firefly’s board of directors in late 2020. This decision made it easier for Firefly to secure multiple government and military contracts, alleviating some of the national security tensions. 

Still, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the US (CFIUS) has submitted an additional request for Maxim Polyakov to relinquish around half of his shares in Firefly. Polyakov agreed to this demand as well, even though he did not give up ownership of the company after selling the shares. According to Noosphere Ventures spokespeople, maintaining Firefly ownership does not pose any danger to the US national security. Besides, Maxym Polyakov, sling with his other businesses, has been carefully vetted by the US authorities, and no threat has been identified in this process. According to Max Polyakov’s company official statement, Noosphere Ventures will be seeking help from a banking investment company to sell off the shares while also maintaining Firefly Aerospace company ownership. 

With a degree in economics, Polyakov Maxim Valeryevich has accumulated impressive wealth developing software products, from dating and marketing sites to games, in Ukraine. In 2017, he purchased Firefly out of bankruptcy and has been investing in the company ever since. In September 2021, Firefly carried out its maiden rocket launch from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. Even though the rocket did not reach orbit, it still performed well on the initial launch, and now Firefly is getting ready for its second launch attempt. 

Max Polyakov and His Part in Firefly Aerospace Progress

In the last few years, Firefly has been making steady progress thanks to Maxym Polyakov’s participation. The company has been awarded contracts by NASA, the US Air Force, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Besides, Firefly has secured a technology-sharing agreement between the US and Ukraine. The company now relies on a Ukrainian R&D center and a Central Texas manufacturing facility. 

The reason why US authorities are growing concerned about a potential data leak is not the relations between the US and Ukraine, which remain allied states. Russia, however, is building up forces at the Ukrainian border, heightening the threat of invasion.  

After granting the US authorities request and stepping down from the Firefly board of directors in November 2020, Polyakov sold most of his Firefly shares in May 2021. The decision resulted in $75 million and a $1+ billion validation for Firefly. More importantly, these actions made sure Firefly is eligible for government contracts now that its original founder Tom Markusic is also an acting CEO.

Following the request to sell most of the shares in Firefly, his venture fund Noosphere Ventures has issued a statement clarifying the nature of these requests. According to Noosphere Ventures, CFIUS’s requests resulted in growing political tension between Russia and Ukraine and have nothing to do with Polyakov personally. The statement adds that the authorities have already vetted Max Polyakov and his other business, and no security danger has ever been identified.

Right now, Polyakov is one of the few private space pioneers, along with Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. Unlike Musk, Polyakov is betting on a medium-class rocket that would be able to deliver dozens of satellites to orbit in a single launch. In addition to that, Firefly is working on a lunar lander and spaceplane projects.

Firefly Aerospace Collaboration with SpaceX on Lunar Lander 

In recent news, a Firefly Aerospace spokesperson announced on May 20, 2021, that SpaceX had given the company a contract to deploy its Blue Ghost Moon lander in 2023. The contract includes ten planned payloads as part of NASA’s Payload Services mission, including additional commercial payloads by private contractors. The mission’s goal is to land at Mare Crisium in the Moon’s Crisium basin and provide onboard payload transport through lunar transit. The lunar lander is manufactured for an extended operation duration that will include transit during lunar orbit as well as during a complete lunar day, which lasts roughly 14 Earth days. 

Firefly Senior VP of Spacecraft, Shea Ferring, has gone on record to share their excitement over the awarded trust. According to Mr. Ferring, the Firefly team, supported by Max Polyakov, is proud to work on Falcon 9 tech to provide NASA with the tools to successfully implement the Artemis mission. The Blue Ghost propulsion system should help Falcon 9 deliver up to 150 kg of cargo to the Moon surface.

When asked how far along the Blue Ghost mission has come, Mr. Ferring elaborated that the team has made quick progress and is well within time limitations. The Blue Ghost lunar lander is currently going through routine productions which involve rigorous navigation and flight testing at Firefly’s Moon landscape site in Briggs, Texas.

Tom Markusic, CEO of Firefly, funded by a Ukrainian Polyakov Maxim Valeryevich said that the Firefly team is looking forward to being part of the Falcon 9 project and will ensure that its Blue Ghost takes full advantage of the rocket’s utilities during the first stage of its trip to the lunar surface.