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A Rocket Mogul Is Preparing to Launch a Union of U.S. and Soviet Technology

Firefly Aerospace is seeking a niche below SpaceX’s jumbo rockets, while owner Max Polyakov faces some awkward questions.

A rocket engine test site in Cedar Park, Texas.

A rocket engine test site in Cedar Park, Texas.

Photographer: Kelsey McClellan for Bloomberg Businessweek

Max Polyakov is in Texas, and the aspiring rocket magnate wants to do Texan things. It’s months before the coronavirus pandemic will force even the Lone Star State into a brief, reluctant lockdown, so Polyakov feels plenty comfortable driving a truck to the 5-Way Beer Barn about 50 miles north of downtown Austin. “Look at that! Look at that! Look at that!” he exclaims in a thick Slavic accent as the red storehouse comes into view. “We’ve come at the right time for the Beer Barn!” There, he can pull up, roll down the window, and get suds, harder booze, or a hay bale plopped into his vehicle by a friendly person who starts the conversation with “What y’all need today?”