By Eric M. Johnson
SEATTLE (Reuters) – Max Polyakov, an ultra-wealthy entrepreneur with ambitions of building a space transportation empire, has acquired South African satellite maker Dragonfly Aerospace, he told Reuters.
The deal gives Polyakov an anchorpoint in the booming but fiercely competitive market for small-satellite technology, and a potential revenue source for rocket maker Firefly Aerospace, which is majority-owned by Polyakov’s Noosphere Ventures investment fund.
He declined to disclose the value of the deal, which closed earlier this month. It has not been previously reported. An announcement is expected on Tuesday.
“This deal gives us cost-control and mass production of components,” Polyakov told Reuters by phone. “It allows us to bring everything in-house.”
The acquisition comes amid a frenzy of capital infusions and blank-check deal-making around 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.
Texas-based Firefly is seeking to raise up to $350 million in multiple tranches over 12 months as part of a plan to expand production and bring to market its higher-capacity Beta rocket, two people familiar with the matter said.
One of them told Reuters an announcement on an initial infusion could be made in the coming days.
A Firefly spokesman declined to comment.
Polyakov hopes Dragonfly’s satellites could launch on Firefly’s Alpha rocket, which Polyakov said could potentially debut before the end of June.
Firefly, U.S.-New Zealand startup Rocket Lab and billionaire British entrepreneur Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit are front-runners in a long list of small-launch providers seeking to cash in on the small satellite trend.
The boom is fueled in part by venture cash and technology leaps that have reduced the size and boosted the capabilities of satellites used for everything from communications to national security to climate studies.
The sprawling field of small-satellite makers includes SpaceX’s Starlink, Amazon.com’s Kuiper, Britain’s OneWeb, venture-backed Planet, and Raytheon Technologies Corp’s Blue Canyon Technologies.
Among them, Polyakov’s Dragonfly aims to build up to 48 satellites per year for commercial and civil space customers. For example, Dragonfly develops satellite cameras for Earth Observing Systems Data Analytics, which is owned by Polyakov’s Menlo Park, California-based Noosphere Ventures.
Polyakov plans to expand Dragonfly Aerospace’s presence with new facilities in the U.S. and Europe, he said, without providing a specific time frame.
(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Nick Zieminski)