Three of Rocket Lab’s Photon spacecraft will be built and launched to act as platforms for a firm with space manufacturing ambitions. Varda Space Industries and Rocket Lab signed a contract on August 11 for 3 Electron launches of Rocket Lab’s Photon spacecraft. The missions are expected to launch in the first quarters of 2023 and 2024, with a fourth mission possibility.
Varda is creating gear to generate various items in the microgravity setting of low Earth orbit, and each Photon will act as a platform for its “space factories.” Propulsion, station-keeping, attitude control, and communications will all be provided by the Photons. Varda will build the 120-kilogram plants, which will feature a return capsule which will transport the created goods back to Earth after a three-month journey.
The deal, according to Rocket Lab, demonstrates one of the smallsat system’s selling qualities. “With Photon, our customers can realize the entire promise of space. In a statement, Peter Beck, CEO of Rocket Lab, said, “It removes a significant barrier to the increasing small satellite market by offering our customers a modular and configurable spaceship platform that they don’t have to build themselves.” “Rather than worrying about designing and operating a spacecraft, our customers get to orbit sooner and can focus solely on their mission.”
“Photon is an excellent fit for our objective, and their team has demonstrated a high level of engineering rigor. Working with them will enable us to meet our demanding schedule and limited budget,” said Will Bruey, Varda’s chief executive. Varda has received $53 million to date, including a $42 million Series A round-headed by Caffeinated Capital and Khosla Ventures on July 28. According to its website, the company’s mission is to be the “global leader in the commercial microgravity manufacturing.” It is situated in Torrance, California.
Varda, on the other hand, has been tight-lipped about its plans. It says it will focus on the in-space manufacture of pharmaceuticals, fiber optic cables, and semiconductors, even though the requirements for these items differ greatly. The business did not address queries about its intentions for the Photon missions, particularly if they are primarily meant as technical demos or revenue-generating missions.
Manufacturing in space has a lengthy and mainly unsuccessful history. Some hoped that the space station, space shuttle, and other platforms could produce items ranging from semiconductors to protein crystals in the 1980s. Still, they failed to produce valuable products to offset the exorbitant costs of manufacturing and returning them to Earth. Recently, companies have studied creating a sort of high-quality optical fiber known as ZBLAN on the International Space Station (ISS), but no significant commercial sales have been reported.