September 23, 2023

Firefly Aerospace acquires Spaceflight Inc. to increase the capabilities for on-orbit services

The engineers at Spaceflight Inc.  working on a Sherpa-LTE orbital transport vehicle.  (Spaceflight Inc. photo)

The engineers at Spaceflight Inc. working on a Sherpa-LTE orbital transport vehicle. (Spaceflight Inc. photo)

Texas-based Firefly Aerospace says it will sell Bellevue, Wash.-based Spaceflight Inc. has taken over and will shift the focus of the operation from satellite ride-sharing logistics to the line of orbital transport vehicles.

Firefly says the strategic acquisition will add to its portfolio of low-cost space transportation services, ranging from launch vehicles to its Blue Ghost lunar lander.

“Spaceflight’s proven orbital vehicles, facilities and mission management expertise will support Firefly’s rapid growth, provide a robust investor roadmap and meet the high demand for our on-orbit and responsive space services,” said Bill Weber, CEO of Firefly Aerospace, in a press release today. “The acquisition accelerates Firefly’s timeline to support end-to-end missions with launch, lunar and space services.”

Financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

Spaceflight Inc. was founded in Seattle in 2009. Ownership passed in 2020 to a 50-50 joint venture between two Japanese companies – Mitsui & Co. and Yamasa Co. Ltd. BlackSky and a stake in a Tukwila, Washington-based satellite production company called LeoStella.

Aerospace is now under the Firefly Aerospace brand, said Risa Schnautz, Firefly’s senior manager of marketing and communications. The entire Spaceflight team will join Firefly, and Schnautz said the team’s talents, roles and responsibilities will be assessed in the coming months.

“Firefly’s plan is to use Spaceflight’s Bellevue facilities to manufacture its orbital vehicles,” Schnautz told GeekWire in an email. “Our Blue Ghost lunar lander will continue to be produced at our Cedar Park, Texas facility.”

Spaceflight was ranked #66 on the GeekWire 200, our list of private startups in the Pacific Northwest.

Spaceflight’s Sherpa orbital transfer vehicles are designed to launch on rockets, including SpaceX’s Falcon 9. Multiple satellites can be attached to a single Sherpa and then deployed to different orbits after the orbital tug detaches from its launch vehicle.

In addition to building Sherpas, Spaceflight Inc. pre-launch arrangements made for satellites on rideshare missions. But Schnautz said part of the business will be de-emphasized.

“We are currently assessing the needs of our combined customers to meet their mission requirements with Firefly’s launch vehicles,” Schnautz said. “Firefly will respect Spaceflight’s current contracts, but will not merge payloads on other launch vehicles in the future.”

Firefly is a portfolio company of AE Industrial Partners, a private equity firm specializing in aerospace, defense and other industrial markets.

Weber said the acquisition of Spaceflight Inc. “is the result of Firefly’s business plan to strengthen the company through organic growth in addition to accelerating its capabilities with strategic acquisitions.”

Firefly’s Alpha launch vehicle will be displayed with the US Space Force, NASA and other commercial customers through 2023. The company is also developing a new medium-lift launch vehicle in conjunction with Northrop Grumman. Firefly’s Blue Ghost lunar lander will complete the first of two planned missions to the moon next year with NASA as anchor customer, and Firefly’s Space Utility Vehicle has a mission scheduled early next year to demonstrate the vehicle’s capabilities in orbit.

“Combining Spaceflight’s on-orbit experience with Firefly’s launchers, Blue Ghost landers and Space Utility Vehicles is an overnight game changer for our customers and investors,” said Weber.

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