Firefly Aerospace is on the hunt for a new CEO, after it announced Wednesday that co-founder Tom Markusic is transitioning to chief technical advisor and full-time board member. The leadership switch-up comes just four months after private equity firm AE Industrial Partners (AEI) bought out Ukranian firm Noosphere Venture Partners' significant stake in the company, an indication that Firefly's new majority owners may have a different vision for its future.
Peter Schumacher, a partner with AEI, will act as interim CEO while the company searches for Markusic's replacement.
AEI entered the picture in February, after the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS) expressed concern over Noosphere's stake in Firefly (the exact nature of the concern is not clear). CFIUS sent a letter to Noosphere's head, the Ukranian tech investor Max Polyakov, last November requesting his firm divest itself from the company.
"Dear CFIUS, Air Force and 23 agencies of USA who betrayed me and judge me in all your actions for past 15 months," Polyakov said in a Facebook post in February. "I hope now you are happy. History will judge all of you guys." Polyakov reportedly poured more than $200 million of his personal fortune into the company after resuscitating it from bankruptcy in 2017.
In March, AEI led a $75 million Series B round and became majority stakeholders of Firefly. The rocket company plans to launch its Alpha rocket for the second time this summer; the first launch, which took place last September, was aborted mid-flight due to issues with one of the rocket's four engines. U.S. Space Force officials overseeing the flight made the call to detonate the rocket two-and-a-half minutes after launch.
In addition to the 95-foot tall Alpha and a larger rocket dubbed Beta, Firefly is also developing in-space vehicles, including the Blue Ghost lunar lander and a "Space Utility Vehicle" to transfer spacecraft to different orbits. Firefly said in April it had completed a key design readiness review for Blue Ghost, which will fly its first mission for NASA in 2024 as part of the agency's Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program.
Image Credits: Firefly Aerospace
"With new ownership and funding, Firefly has been reinvigorated," AEI partner Kirk Konert said in a statement. "The Company is entering a new phase of growth, highlighted by the upcoming second launch of Alpha, Firefly's flagship launch vehicle, this summer."
AEI told TechCrunch it did not have further comment on the transition, an declined to share details including when Markusic was informed of the decision or whether he will participate in the search for the next CEO. Firefly did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.