The Series A of Varda Space is for off-planet manufacturing
Microgravity is a key capability that can only be found off-world, and Varda Space Industries has raised $42 million to bring that capability to manufacturing. By establishing its first manufacturing facility in space as early as 2023, the startup will be able to bring back advanced products that can only be made under sustained periods of zero gravity. Existing investors Lux Capital, General Catalyst, and Founders Fund were involved in the round.
Including a $9 million seed round last December, the company has raised over $50 million. Jeff Bezos said after his own trip to space that he wanted to move all heavy industry and all pollution off Earth. Will Bruey and Delian Asparouhov aren't imagining cement mixers and steel plants in space.
In order to make bioprinted organs, fiber-optic cables or pharmaceuticals, they want to open up manufacturing processes that are not possible on Earth. The International Space Station can be used to build the space factory of the future. Over the last few decades a steady stream of research has shown that novel materials and products can be found in space.
Getting, staying in and returning from space has been too expensive to consider scaling. A lot of our R&D has already been done for us in the public sector, and we're basically a ramp toward commercialization for that research that's already been proven out. Varda, which emerged with $9 million in funding, is building a three-module spacecraft comprised of an off-the-shelf satellite platform, a center platform where the microgravity manufacturing will take place, and a reentering vehicle.
Varda will build the products for the first 10 or so launches. The goal is to become a contract manufacturing platform for other companies wanting to build products in space once the company has established that it is reliable and cheap. The App Store did not come out with the iPhone, according to Asparouhov.
The first 10 or 11 apps were developed to share the value. We are developing the first few apps ourselves to show the value in this commercial capability that we are bringing to market, but over time, we will start to release an app store. Varda wants all of the manufacturing to be automated.
The company is able to reduce critical overhead by not having humans in the picture. Regulators were invited to a preliminary design review by Varda. "I think that what investors, NASA and the Department of Defense really see as exciting about our approach is that in comparison to everyone else that's ever discussed space manufacturing, we're by far."
There is a dollar per unit-mass that Varda will need to spend to get things up to microgravity and a dollar per unit-mass of value from manufacturing in microgravity. The products that maximize the difference between these two equations are the key to profitability. If the innovation gains from zero gravity are high, novel pharmaceuticals could be very profitable.
According to Bruey, the company is imagining multiple missions in 2023, and then moving to once per quarter and even multiple reentry capsule returns with products per day. The scale of demand for novel space-made products is potentially high enough to meet this kind of launch and reentry schedule, according to the Varda co-founders. Compared to a burgeoning industry like space tourism, Bruey said the space manufacturing has the potential to positively affect a much higher portion of humans.
He said that it will touch many parts of humanity's experience out here on Earth, with significant improvements in quality of life. Space opportunities on the ground take off as the market matures.