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.