Max Polyakov’s FireFly Aerospace: not so flyable

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In recent years aerospace industry has become one of the most promising areas of technology development. Space attracts investors, new space technologies demonstrate how science fiction becomes a reality. But what important is that they are ready to spend money on space. And even if this does not include commercial value, the excellent image is already a reward for the investor.

On Earth, there are practically no people who have not heard about the launch of the world’s largest payload in space this February. The launch of Falcon Heavy by Elon Musk’s SpaceX became one of the turning points in the history of space exploration and development of the aerospace sector. Musk learned how to return rocket stages to the ground without any damage. New launches take place on average once a month. In the near future SpaceX plans to open another spaceport in Florida (USA) and launch once a week. Excursions to the moon and the exploration of Mars are just around the corner.

At the same time, hundreds of other space startups are developing. York Space Systems, a startup from Denver has signed an agreement to launch six satellite missions by 2022. In 2017, it promises to present a prototype of his own satellite platform. Planetary resources develops technologies for extraction of minerals from asteroids and plans the first mission by 2020. Google co-founder Larry Page shows the interest to the project. Since 2013 Spire sends satellites to near-earth orbit. Even India is trying to break into the space elite with the Earth2Orbit project. The company intends to deliver humanity to the Moon and Mars. Meanwhile, its experts offer consulting services to governments and develop simulators of space missions, prototypes of residential capsules and suits for future astronauts.

But not all start-ups are so successful. Until recently, one of the most promising projects, which almost kept pace with Musk’s company was an American startup FireFly. The company already has Alfa and Beta missiles capable of delivering goods weighing 500 kg and 1.1 tonnes, respectively. But in 2016, as a result of an unsuccessful deal, the company got stuck in debt. Its shares have depreciated. And in the spring of 2017, FireFly Space Systems got a new owner – a businessman of Ukrainian origin, Max Polyakov. The startup entered the company EOS Launcher, part of Polyakov’s umbrella brand Noosphere Ventures. The purchase caused a lot of questions even at the time of the transaction. First of all, ITAR (International Traffic in Arms Regulations) deals with security issues and does not approve deals with non-residents of the United States, but in the case of Polyakov, the regulator made an exception. Secondly, Polyakov’s company managed to make a deal without its preliminary financial security. It is also a rare case in the United States. As Polyakov managed to bypass ITAR and agree on a deal without collateral, it still remains a mystery.

As he received the keys to the project, Polyakov conducted a massive media campaign. In May 2017, the media wrote that Polyakov is ready to resume the project and is ready to invest $ 75 million in the company in the first stage and much more in the future. Moreover, he is ready to re-hire all the start-up’s employees and is ready to launch missiles.

Since the purchase of FireFly one year has passed, however, the situation has not changed. Media coverage of FireFly could disappear altogether unless Polyakov’s continuing media campaign. In January 2018, news that businessman is ready to develop the project continue to pop up, although the facts remain the same as last year’s. There is a feeling that the news is reprinted with a slight change in the text. For a year the project itself has been deadlocked.

Polyakov is on a first-name basis with space. What brought him into this sphere? It seems that Max Polyakov only pursues the goal to save his image, not to launch a rocket. The businessman’s reputation is complicated by scandals related to corporate conflicts, dating business, fraud, illegal gambling. In 2013, Max Polyakov put his partner in the company Cupid plc., scotsman Bill Dobbie in an extremely unpleasant position. Polyakov provoked a media scandal and collapsed shares of his company, then he sold the assets, took them offshore and re-registered with his own company, leaving his partner with nothing. This is how a well-known dating holding Together Networks appeared. In the media, this holding has repeatedly been accused of using bots profiles to attract new users, illegal use of personal data and fraudulent schemes of pumping money.

FraudFly: Max Polyakov and his Ukrainian partner Maxim Krippa

According to Ukrainian media, Max Polyakov and his Ukrainian partner Maxim Krippa are developing the online casino network Vulcan, Joy Casino and CasinoX on the basis of the Ukrainian company EvoPlay. In general, Volcans work in the CIS countries and the USA, where gambling business is prohibited. Regulators are trying to stop their activities, but, often, unsuccessfully. Just when one closes access to one site, Polyakov’s company opens a dozen new ones that are copies of the closed sites.

Recently Polyakov was convicted of organizing a porn video chat network, which functions in Ukraine and is aimed at foreigners who want to receive adult content with the participation of Ukrainian girls. A journalistic investigation in Zaporozhye, the hometown of Polyakov, revealed: on sites related to Polyakov’s Together Networks, girls undress and imitate sex in front of customers on the other side of the monitor. Some of them do this from special offices-studios located at the addresses of businessman’s Ukrainian companies. In Ukraine, such activities are illegal: the media reported that Max Polyakov may be brought to justice in Ukraine.

When Max Polyakov’s reputation fell to a critical level, he created the company Noosphere Ventures. The organization’s goal is exclusively positive events and initiatives: robot exhibitions, technological events and other shows. The company positions itself as a venture fund that finances start-ups. The coverage of the company’s activities is superfluous, even baroque: every week in the Russian-language media there are slightly re-written news about the activities that Noosphere Ventures organized a year ago and earlier

But apparently Polyakov believes that this is not enough to whitewash his reputation. This is when FireFly appeared. Polyakov bought it for pennies and concentrated on the media company and positioned himself as a space investor, a popularizer of science and technology, and tried to create a reputation for a new Elon Musk.

However, the absence of any significant news about the project is alarming. The latest news concerns the intentions of Polyakov about the “refreshment” of the project. But none of the promises have been fulfilled so far. What is especially troubling is the lack of news about the update of the project team. The accumulated developments and patents, in which Max Polyakov invested $ 75 million, will not launch the rockets. Even if one forgets that Richard Branson’s Virgin claimed to the founder of FireFly Tom Markusik for using ideas and achievements received while working in Virgin. Today, in order to remain a player in the space technology market, one must run very fast, and in order to become # 1, one must run even faster.

Meanwhile, the industry is warming up after the successful launch of Falcon 9. However, those who show dynamics are benefiting from this. In addition, while competitors’ technologies are evolving, FireFly Aerospace lags behind. Will the company have a bright future? Alas, so far the reverse is obvious.

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