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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.

Go deeper

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Jan 26, 2021 - Science

The coming land rush in space

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Space is the new Wild West. Nations and space companies are racing to come to a consensus on what they can own, mine and take possession of in outer space before competitors stake ground first.

Why it matters: Private companies are building their businesses on sending spacecraft to the Moon, asteroids and other objects in the coming years to eventually extract resources that will be used or sold.

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Jan 26, 2021 - Science

Axiom announces the crew for its first private ISS mission

Earth from space. Photo: NASA

An American entrepreneur, Canadian investor and Israeli investor, along with a former NASA astronaut, are set to make up the first fully private mission to the International Space Station.

Why it matters: The flight — expected to launch in January 2022 — represents part of NASA's bid to create an economy in low-Earth orbit supported by private companies.

Biden's pick to lead major banking regulator drops out

Saule Omarova, nominee for Comptroller of the Currency, at a confirmation hearing on Nov. 18. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

President Biden's pick to head one of the country's most powerful banking regulators is dropping out of consideration for the post, according to a statement from Biden that accepted the withdrawal.

Why it matters: Saule Omarova, nominated to lead the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, faced a tough path to confirmation — with opposition from Republicans and moderate Democrats.