The Russian founder and CEO of Momentus Space resigned today after investigations into his access to restricted space technology interfered with his company’s attempt to go public through a purchase by a blank-check company.
The company’s board said Mikhail Kokorich’s resignation came in “an effort to expedite the resolution of U.S. government national security and foreign ownership concerns surrounding the Company, the existence of which the Company recently has confirmed.”
Quartz first reported these concerns in Nov. 2020, detailing how Kokorich started Momentus to develop a space tug in 2017 after being forced to divest from his previous satellite company by the federal government, which was concerned that he and other foreign investors might access technology considered too dangerous to slip into the hands of foreign rivals.
A federal investigation into Kokorich’s immigration status in 2019 led Momentus to bar him from accessing the company’s technical information, even as he continued to serve as CEO. Government officials were also concerned about foreign investors in Momentus with ties to Vladimir Putin and sanctioned Russian firms, particularly Lev Khasis, a top executive at Russia’s largest state-owned bank.
Then, in Oct. 2020, Stable Road Acquisition Corporation, a special-purposed acquisition corporation (SPAC) backed by Stable Road Capital, announced a plan purchase Momentus and make it a public company trading on the NASDAQ. Since then, the stock’s price has more than doubled, though it fell 3% on today’s news. The transaction has yet to be confirmed by SRAC’s shareholders.
A spokesperson for Momentus wouldn’t say what concerns the company had confirmed, but did say that Kokorich, who did not respond to a request for comment, retained his ownership stake in the firm. Previously, Kokorich has said that he is applying for political asylum in the US, which would have given him a path toward official permission to work with Momentus’ products.
Chief revenue officer Dawn Harms, who previously worked at Boeing’s satellite division, is taking over as interim CEO, while Dr. Fred Kennedy, a former US government space official, continues as the company’s president. Momentus has developed an orbital transfer vehicle or OTV, called Vigoride, that uses a proprietary water-based propulsion system to lower the cost of delivering satellites to their proper orbits.
However, the company’s securities filings credit Kokorich with the majority of Momentus’ inventions, and note that “the loss of Mr. Kokorich would adversely affect Momentus’ business because his loss could make it more difficult to, among other things, compete with other market participants and retain existing customers or cultivate new ones.”
Still, Kokorich’s resignation as CEO could make it easier for the company to operate and win licenses for its spacecraft. But it’s not clear how ongoing government concerns about Momentus’ foreign ownership will be resolved without further divestment.
This story has been updated to include comment from Momentus. This piece was corrected after the initial headline erroneously described Kokorich as the CEO of a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC); in fact, he is the CEO of a firm selected to merge with a SPAC.