Varda Space Industries has secured $42 million in a Series A round to add a key manufacturing capacity that can be found only on other planets: microgravity. The 8-month-old company hopes to open its first manufacturing plant in space as soon as 2023, bringing back to the Earth innovative products which can only be created in zero gravity for extended periods.
Caffeinated Capital and Khosla Ventures led the round, including current investors General Catalyst, Lux Capital and Founders Fund. It brings the total amount that has been raised by the firm to more than $50 million, comprising a $9 million seed phase in December.
Varda’s plan differs from that of Jeff Bezos, who stated following his space flight earlier that he wanted to “transfer all heavy sector and all polluting business off Earth.” Will Bruey, SpaceX veteran and principal of Founders Fund Delian Asparouhov, the company’s co-founders, aren’t envisioning cement mixers and steel mills in orbit. Instead, they seek to develop manufacturing techniques that aren’t viable on Earth, such as bioprinted organs, fibre-optic cables, and pharmaceuticals, which require fundamentally different circumstances than those found on Earth.
According to Asparouhov and Bruey, the International Space Station, that is mainly a scientific outpost, demonstrates the value of microgravity manufacturing. During the last few decades, the ISS has produced a continual stream of research demonstrating that novel products and materials are possible in space. Getting into space, staying in orbit, and coming back from orbit has been too expensive to explore scaling these results up until now.
“A majority of our R&D has essentially been completed for us in the public sector, and we’re basically a ramp towards commercialization for that research,” Bruey told TechCrunch. The company is now working on a three-module spacecraft that includes the off-the-shelf satellite module, a center platform for the microgravity manufacturing, and a reentry vehicle to return the materials to Earth. Varda will produce the products itself for the first ten or so releases, according to Bruey. He noted that after the company has proven that their process is both dependable and affordable, the long-term goal is to be a supplier manufacturing platform for other firms interested in building items in space.
Varda’s strategy includes automating all of the manufacturing processes. The corporation can eliminate key overhead by avoiding human-rated spaceship development by removing humans from the equation (at least for now) (and the linked safety issues with crewed launches).
According to Bruey, the business envisions “several missions” in 2023, then once every quarter, and even several reentry capsules returning with the merchandise every day. Varda co-founders are certain that demand for unique space-made products will be large enough to satisfy such a tight launch and reentry timeframe.