Varda Space selects SpaceX for launch of first space manufacturing satellite

Varda Space Industries, a startup that wants to build in-space manufacturing facilities, will be sending its first spacecraft to orbit aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in 2023.

The actual spacecraft — the startup’s first to go to orbit — will be made by SpaceX’s rival launch company, Rocket Lab, which will also make two subsequent space vehicles for Varda. The three vehicles will be outfitted with two Varda-made modules: a microgravity manufacturing module and a reentry capsule.

The aim is for each spacecraft to spend approximately three months in orbit, with the reentry module bringing back around 40-60 kilograms of manufactured materials.

Varda’s goal is to unlock the benefits of microgravity — which can only be found for sustained periods in space — for manufacturing novel materials, like bio-printed organs or specialized semiconductors. The startup’s bet is that the potential market for such materials is high enough to make the effort worth it.

The Torrance, California-based startup has been moving fast since its founding by SpaceX veteran Will Bruey and Founders Fund principal Delian Asparouhov a little less than a year ago. Varda announced a $42 million Series A in July, and plans on following an aggressive launch schedule, with two launches in 2023 and a third in 2024.

Company executives said they chose SpaceX because it offered the least expensive and most reliable solution for getting their spacecraft into orbit. “Launch costs is a core driver of our economics,” said Delian Asparouhov, co-founder and president of Varda Space, in an interview. “We want to stick to the lowest cost available solution.”

The company did not look far before selecting SpaceX. “We have some familiarity with SpaceX as a launch provider,” said Will Bruey, co-founder and chief executive of Varda Space. Bruey worked for nearly six years at SpaceX while Asparouhov is also a principal at Founders Fund, which has invested in both Varda Space and SpaceX.

The spacecraft will be one of many objects aboard the Falcon 9 rideshare mission, a new and lucrative program that spreads the cost of going to space between customers by allowing them to essentially carpool to space. SpaceX promises to slash the cost of launch to as low as $1 million for an individual customer looking to send up to 200 kilograms of payload to sun synchronous orbit.

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