Dec 8, 2020 - Science

Varda Space raises $9 million for manufacturing in space

Illustration of an astronaut with a tool belt surrounded by a tool box and floating tools.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Varda Space, a Southern California-based orbital manufacturing startup, has raised $9 million in seed funding led by Founders Fund and Lux Capital.

Why it matters: Researchers and manufacturers have long dreamed of outsourcing the manufacturing of specialized products to space. Varda Space's funding shows that investors are starting to get on board with that idea.

Details: The company is not sharing much about what it plans to manufacture in space, but says that "super high-value and super sensitive materials" like semiconductors and pharmaceuticals are examples.

  • "We're the Foxconn of space," co-founder Delian Asparouhov (and a principal at Founders Fund) tells Axios to describe where in the manufacturing chain Varda aims to be.
  • Manufacturing will be mostly automated to avoid the complications that humans add.
  • Varda itself won't be building rockets from scratch — instead, it will partner with those that do, though it declined to share more about what exactly it's building or its timeline, except to say that it's "building things that go into space."

Between the lines: "The manufacturing processes rely on the laws of physics and they're different in space," says co-founder and CEO Will Bruey, who spent more than five years at SpaceX.

The big picture: The cost of launching payloads to orbit has been dramatically decreasing in recent years, making endeavors like orbital manufacturing seem economically feasible in the future.

  • Some companies working on in-space manufacturing right now are focusing on catering to government customers like NASA.
  • Varda, however, doesn't plan to rely on space agencies as customers or operational partners, says Asparouhov. "NASA is a research organization and we are a commercial company."

Yes, but: Despite the advances in tech and decreases in costs, this is still a highly speculative bet.

  • It's still difficult to launch things into orbit, and it costs tens of millions of dollars, if not more.
  • Manufacturing on Earth is also difficult, so bringing it to space could present a number of new challenges.

Founders Fund partner Trae Stephens and Lux Capital managing partner Josh Wolfe are joining Varda's board. Also Capital, Fifty Years, Raymond Tonsing, Justin Mateen and Naval Ravikant are also participating in the round.

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