6 PE-backed deals that shoot for the stars, gearing up for space tourism

AE Industrial Partners, BlackRock, Veritas, Enlightenment and Trive are among the PE firms venturing into space.

Move over Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk. Space isn’t just for tech-savvy billionaires anymore. Private equity firms are lining up to explore the final frontier too, joining pioneers like Musk’s SpaceX and Bezos’ Blue Origin.

PE Hub has identified half a dozen space-driven PE deals announced over the last few months. Leading the pack is AE Industrial Partners, a Boca Raton, Florida, firm that is actively investing.

1. AEI buys York Space Systems

Earlier this month, AEI agreed to acquire a majority stake in York Space Systems, a Denver-based provider of small satellites, satellite components and turnkey mission operations. BlackRock is also an investor.

Earlier in October, the Space Development Agency awarded York a contract worth up to $200 million to build and operate 12 satellites with experimental military communications payloads, as SpaceNews reported.

With approximately 165,000 square feet of manufacturing space, York makes spacecraft intended for low-Earth orbit (LEO), geosynchronous equatorial orbit (GEO) and other cislunar areas.

“With its innovative spacecraft designs and manufacturing processes, York has revolutionized the small satellite market, which is poised for significant growth in both the government and commercial markets over the next 20 years,” said Kirk Konert, partner at AEI.

2. AEI buys stake in Firefly, leads new round of funding 

Back in Feburary, AEI acquired a significant stake in Firefly Aerospace in February from Noosphere Venture Partners LP. In a statement, the acquisition was described as a way to position Firefly for significant opportunities as the company focuses its efforts on “restoring the country’s leadership in the small- to-medium launch market”, while establishing international strategic partnerships to effectively serve the global market.

“AEI believes that leveraging this experience will be a critical advantage as Firefly looks to secure additional US Federal Government contracts,” read the statement.

In March, AEI led a $75 million Series B round in Firefly.

Earlier in October, Firefly launched its Alpha rocket. The company considers it a success, despite its three satellite payloads reentering the atmosphere just days later, as Space.com pointed out.

3. Sierra Space, backed by AEI and BlackRock, teams up with Spirit AeroSystems

Sierra Space is headquartered in Louisville, Colorado, and is backed by a slew of venture capital and private equity firms including General Atlantic, Coatue and Moore Strategic Ventures, BlackRock and AEI.

In May, Sierra joined hands with Spirit AeroSystems, a Wichita, Kansas-based company, for a long-term strategic partnership that is intended to accelerate access to a vibrant commercial space economy of the future.

Sierra focuses on space transportation and infrastructure for low-Earth orbit commercialization while Spirit AeroSystems focuses on aerostructures for commercial airplanes, defense platforms and business/regional jets.

Tom Vice, Sierra Space’s chief executive, described the deal as a way to increase innovation and efficiencies for the space economy. “Working with Spirit Defense & Space, we will broaden access to tomorrow’s space economy, lowering the cost of entry and increasing the speed to market of Sierra Space’s Dream Chaser franchise. Together we will accelerate the commercialization of space,” he said.

4. Veritas Capital acquires CAES Space Systems

Veritas Capital, a New York based PE firm, last week agreed to acquire CAES Space Systems, a Colorado Springs, Colorado-headquartered company that provides radiation hardened components, mission processing, cabling, wave guides, antennas and power management solutions for the sector.

CAES has over six decades of space flight heritage, the company said.

The company “is uniquely differentiated by the breadth of its technical capabilities and segment expertise, as well as its long history of delivering critical solutions to customers,” Veritas chief executive and managing partner Ramzi Musallam said.

5. Enlightenment Capital-backed Boecore buys Ascension Engineering Group

Also last week, Enlightenment Capital portfolio company Boecore, which provides technology services within the space, missile defense, hypersonics and strategic deterrent mission areas, acquired Ascension Engineering Group, a provider of space system and satellite communications engineering equipment for the defense and military community.

Both companies are headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colorado, while Enlightenment Capital is based in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

Acquiring AES will help Boecore deepen its technical capabilities, according to the press release.

“Boecore’s acquisition of AEG comes at a time when there is a critical need for secure and robust satellite communications in space, given an increasingly contested and congested environment,” said Thomas Young, Enlightenment Capital vice president, adding that the firm will continue to invest in Boecore to drive innovation and expand service.

6. Trive Capital-backed Vitesse Systems buys CMI

In June, Dallas-based Trive Capitalacquired Custom Microwave Inc as an add-on for its Vitesse Systems platform.

Vitesse, which supplies cooling systems and communication hardware used in radar, electronic warfare and data-transmission applications, is headquartered in Newark, California, and has additional operations in Colorado, Massachusetts, Maryland and Nevada.

CMI focuses on high-performance passive antennas engineered for critical space and ground applications.

“The proliferation of military and commercial satellites has resulted in increased demand for high performance antennas,” said Trive partner David Stinnett. The addition of CMI will enable Vitesse to support a broad range of LEO and GEO satellite programs and related ground-based systems.”

Space exploration is still clearly in the early days, and PE Hub expects to see more activity in space-related transactions in the months and years to come.