A group of original shareholders in the defunct Firefly Space Systems have accused co-founder and CEO Tom Markusic of fraudulently conspiring with Ukrainian billionaire Maxym Polyakov to force the rocket company into bankruptcy in 2017 and reconstitute it under a nearly identical name without giving them any stake in the new venture.
Markusic “betrayed the trust of his original co-founders and investors and committed fraud to cut them out of his aerospace company. Instead of managing the operations of the Original Firefly, a revolutionary rocket company with endless potential, Markusic schemed with…Maxym Polyakov…to rob Plaintiffs of their investments and form a new company called Firefly Aerospace, Inc. (the ‘New Firefly’),” the plaintiffs said in a lawsuit.
This is an interesting Tweet from Firefly Space Systems’ co-founder Michael A. Blum on Wednesday to Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides with a cc: to Whitesides’ boss, Richard Branson. Claude appears to be Claude M. Stern, one of Virgin Galactic’s lawyers.
Earlier this month, Virgin Galactic filed suit in Los Angeles Superior Court against Firefly Systems and two of its officers, Michael Blum and P.J. King, alleging misappropriation of trade secrets and unfair competition.
The lawsuit is related to arbitration between Virgin Galactic and the company’s former vice president of propulsion, Thomas Markusic. Virgin alleges Markusic took trade secrets and confidential information with him when he left his position at the end of 2013 to co-found Firefly with Blum and King.
The lawsuit alleges that Firefly, Blum and King benefited from knowledge that Markusic took with him from Virgin Galactic. Markusic and the defendants have denied the claims.
Firefly laid off all of its employees at the end of September, saying the company had run out of money after an investor pulled out.
Firefly was developing a small satellite launcher, Firefly Alpha, that would have competed for business with the LauncherOne booster that Virgin Galactic is developing.
Just a brief update on the legal fight between Virgin Galactic and Firefly Space Systems.
The hearing scheduled for today in Los Angeles Superior Court has been postponed until Feb. 23. The hearing concerns a lawsuit filed by Firefly board member P.J. King seeking to overturn an arbitrator’s ruling that he must turn over documents and other materials to Virgin Galactic.
I’ve been getting some inquiries from media about the court documents. The lawsuit filed in LA County Superior Court is online at https://www.lacourt.org/. Do a search in civil cases under online services. The documents are not in the federal PACER system.
The documents for the Clark County, Nevada district court filing were not online the last time I looked. Your best bet would be to contact the parties involved. You will find contact information in the documents filed for the Los Angeles lawsuit.
For anyone who wants to get caught up on this story, here’s Parabolic Arc’s coverage to date:
Virgin Galactic’s former vice president of propulsion, Thomas Markusic, has accused Richard Branson’s space company of lying about the safety and performance of its SpaceShipTwo suborbital tourism vehicle.
“Dr. Markusic was forced to separate from VG [Virgin Galactic] because the company was defrauding the public about the ability of the vehicles to reach space and was utilizing rocket engine technologies that have a high probability of causing catastrophic failure and loss of life,” according to the document.
Via Satellite has an interesting report on a smallsat launcher panel that took place last Thursday during the Hosted Payload and SmallSat Summit in Washington, D.C. The panel, which included executives from DARPA, Firefly Space Systems, Spaceflight Industries and Virgin Galactic, featured discussion on the relative merits of reusability vs. mass production of launchers.
“I think everyone can unanimously agree that costs are far too high in launch,” said P.J. King, co-founder of Firefly. “There are many reasons for that, but if you are going to approach the problem of reducing cost, you’ve effectively got two ways to do it: one is to mass produce and lower the unit costs on an expendable vehicle. The other way is to create a reusable vehicle. We have an eye on both.”
…Not all are pursuing reusability — Rocket Lab,for example, posits that expendable launchers are better for the pace of its business — but rapid manufacture is nearly unanimous, with modular systems dominating most approaches.
King said mass production is the easier of the two, and constitutes Firefly’s primary focus for its early rocket development. Founded less than two years ago, the company recently test fired its first stage engine for Firefly Alpha, a dedicated SmallSat launch vehicle designed to deliver 400kg to Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Firefly plans to build as many as 50 Alpha vehicles per year.
“We are going to be doing three to four suborbital launches first — starting in 2017 to assure people — before we kick into orbital flights in the first quarter 2018,” said King.
Richard DalBello, VP of business development and government relations at Virgin Galactic, said the revamped rocket is now much more aligned with the size of the small satellites the company sees in the market, but that the upgrade will require switching from WhiteknightTwo to a larger carrier aircraft.
“We hope to be starting test launches in the latter part of 2017 with commercial operations in 2018. For a lot of the companies we are talking to, that’s a timeframe that works out well; that’s a planning cycle that works. If we can hit those marks, we think that there will be demand in that time period,” he said.