Firefly Aerospace, founded by a former SpaceX engineer, said on Thursday it had acquired on-orbit servicing company Spaceflight Inc in a push to boost its capabilities for satellites and other spacecraft while they are in orbit. The company will absorb Spaceflight’s Sherpas family of orbital transfer vehicles, along with its licensing and mission management services, to help it stand out as more rocket companies compete for customers. Servicing involves the on-orbit alteration of a satellite or other spacecraft, such as moving it into a different orbit, refueling it, repairing or replacing systems that failed to deploy after launch, or cleaning up components. Spaceflight already offers those services for satellites on rideshare missions with larger spacecraft, such as the International Space Station.
The purchase of Spaceflight comes as Firefly raises $75 million in private capital to support the first launch of its Alpha rocket at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California this year and prepares for the first mission of its Blue Ghost lunar lander next year with NASA as its anchor customer. The company is valued at more than $1 billion. Investors include AE Industrial Partners, a U.S. private equity firm that invests in aerospace, defense, and specialty industrial markets.
Firefly will use its new funding to ramp up production of its Alpha rocket, designed for small satellites and can be launched at a fraction of the cost of other vehicles. It will also continue developing its lander and rocket in collaboration with Northrop Grumman. The company is among several new entrants to the space transportation business vying to cash in on a predicted jump in demand for small satellites. They compete with billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit and the U.S-New Zealand company Rocket Lab.
At the same time, demand has shifted from launching a single satellite on a small rocket to launching swarms of satellites at once and using more giant launchers such as those made by SpaceX. That has prompted some new entrants to design miniaturized launch systems, which can offer more frequent access to space at lower costs.
Spaceflight’s team will join the Firefly team, but the company will keep its offices in Bellevue, Washington. It will also retain its manufacturing and payload processing facilities in that city. In addition, Firefly will continue to honor Spaceflight’s existing customer contracts with other launch vehicles. But after those obligations are fulfilled, Spaceflight will offer its services exclusively with Firefly rockets. The two companies will assess how to combine their talents and roles as they merge operations, said Risa Schnautz, a senior manager for communications at Firefly. “The combined teams will better serve our growing list of customers and investors,” she added. The deal is expected to close by the end of 2022.