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Space startup Firefly raises $75 million, studies public listing

Kitco News

SEATTLE, May 4 (Reuters) - Firefly Aerospace said on Tuesday it has raised $75 million in private capital, the first of two injections totaling up to $400 million that Chief Executive Tom Markusic anticipates will give his space startup a multibillion-dollar value by year-end.

Reuters reported last week that Firefly was close to announcing a capital infusion to fund development of its ambitious spacecraft portfolio, anchored by two carbon-composite rockets.

Firefly, U.S.-New Zealand startup Rocket Lab, and billionaire Richard Branson's Virgin Orbit are seen as front-runners in a new breed of firms building miniaturized launch systems to cash in on the exponential growth of compact satellites needing a ride to orbit in the coming years.

"In the upcoming year, Firefly is going to have so many conspicuous, big milestones," Markusic told Reuters ahead of the announcement. "As long as we do our job, I'm confident we will be a multibillion-dollar company by the end of this year."

Markusic also said he is leaving the door open to taking Firefly public through a merger with a special-purpose acquisition company, amid a wave of such deals which sidestep a traditional IPO.

Among the blank-check deal frenzy, Firefly rival Rocket Lab, which has already launched 97 satellites for government and commercial use, announced a deal in March with a SPAC to go public at a roughly $4.1 billion valuation including debt.

Markusic chuckled as he said that, even as he tries to catch his breath after Tuesday's fundraising round, Firefly's Chief Financial Officer, Darren Ma, has already scheduled a meeting for Wednesday titled "next capital raise brain storm" to discuss the strategy.

"Do we take a path of a pure private raise, or do we really start to entertain SPACs?" Markusic said. "Both of them have their pros and cons."

Firefly has a static fire test of its Alpha rocket slated for May 14 as it works toward a possible first space flight before the end of June, Markusic said.

It is also working to deliver a reusable "Space Utility Vehicle" - essentially a modular tug boat for in-space debris removal, refueling, and satellite deployment - by around 2022.

Firefly's Blue Ghost lunar lander meanwhile has a preliminary design review with NASA in June under a $93.3 million U.S. space agency program to deliver payloads to the moon in 2023.

Firefly is using the capital infusion to expand production and deliver its higher-capacity Beta rocket, slated for a first flight in early 2024, Markusic said.

The oversubscribed Series A was led by investment firm DADA Holdings, with placements by Astera Institute, Reuben Brothers Limited, and SMS Capital Investment LLC, and other investors. (Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)

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