Firefly Aerospace gets a Florida launch site


An architectural rendering shows Firefly Aerospace’s future rocket production facility at Exploration Park on Florida’s Space Coast. (Firefly Aerospace Illustration)

Firefly Aerospace, a Texas-based launch venture that was lifted out of bankruptcy, says it’s struck a deal with Space Florida to establish business operations at Cape Canaveral Spaceport.

The terms of the newly executed agreement call for Firefly to build a 150,000-square-foot rocket manufacturing facility at Space Florida’s Exploration Park and set up a launch facility at Cape Canaveral’s Space Launch Complex 20.

Firefly says it will invest $52 million in the project and bring more than 200 jobs to Florida. Space Florida has agreed to match up to $18.9 million of Firefly’s infrastructure investments via the Florida Department of Transportation Spaceport Improvement Program.

Other ventures with facilities at Exploration Park include OneWeb Satellites and Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture.

“Firefly Aerospace is proud to be the newest member of the Florida Space Coast family,” Firefly CEO Tom Markusic said today in a news release. “Our mass-production manufacturing facility in Exploration Park will enable Firefly to produce 24 Alpha vehicles a year, enabling a launch cadence that will support a rapidly expanding global small-satellite revolution and the commercialization of cislunar space.”

The venture was founded as Firefly Space Systems in 2014 and conducted its first hot-fire rocket engine test the following year. But when a European investor withdrew support in 2016, in the aftermath of Britain’s Brexit vote to withdraw from the European Union, that sent the venture down the path to bankruptcy.

The company was reborn as Firefly Aerospace with backing from Noosphere Venture Partners, an investment firm that bought up Firefly’s assets. Pre-launch testing and fabrication have resumed, and Firefly is aiming to conduct its first Alpha launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California by the end of this year.

Even before its first flight, the venture has secured a place among eight other launch companies on NASA’s list of commercial providers for lunar deliveries, and has a deal with Seattle-based Spaceflight for satellite launch contracts.

“The space industry is expected to be fastest-growing segment of the worldwide economy in the coming decades, with analysts predicting a global market of over $1 trillion a year by 2040,” Markusic said. “Firefly Aerospace is uniquely positioned to be successful in this new economy.”

Firefly doesn’t have the small-launch market all to itself, however. There are plenty of firms aiming to outshine it, ranging from Virgin Orbit and Rocket Lab to Relativity Space and Vector Launch.

At last week’s Commercial Space Transportation Conference in Washington, D.C., some analysts saw clear signs of a coming shakeout on the launch startup scene. “I think it is a 100 percent bubble in the launch sector right now,” said Sunil Nagaraj, founder and managing partner at Ubiquity Ventures.

If there is a shakeout coming, will Firefly rise above it, or get squashed? The multimillion-dollar deal with Space Florida suggests that, for now at least, it’s on an upward trajectory.

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