Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with Axios AM/PM. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Denver news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Des Moines news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Minneapolis-St. Paul news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tampa Bay news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Charlotte news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

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

Virgin Orbit launches satellites into space

The Virgin Orbit "Cosmic Girl," carrying a LauncherOne rocket under it's wing, takes off for the Launch Demo 2 mission from Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, California, on Sunday/ Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne rocket reached space and successfully deployed 10 payloads for NASA's Launch Services Program on Sunday, Richard Branson's company announced.

Why it matters: Per Axios' Miriam Kramer, Virgin Orbit is one of several private spaceflight companies aiming to capitalize on what they believe is a boom in demand for small spacecraft launches.

Ina Fried, author of Login
1 hour ago - Technology

Scoop: Google is investigating the actions of another top AI ethicist

Google CEO Sundar Pichai. Photo by Mateusz Wlodarczyk/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Google is investigating recent actions by Margaret Mitchell, who helps lead the company's ethical AI team, Axios has confirmed.

Why it matters: The probe follows the forced exit of Timnit Gebru, a prominent researcher also on the AI ethics team at Google whose ouster ignited a firestorm among Google employees.

2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Joe Biden's COVID-19 bubble

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The incoming administration is planning extraordinary steps to protect its most prized commodity, Joe Biden, including requiring daily employee COVID tests and N95 masks at all times, according to new guidance sent to some incoming employees Tuesday.

Why it matters: The president-elect is 78 years old and therefore a high risk for the virus and its worst effects, despite having received the vaccine. While President Trump's team was nonchalant about COVID protocols — leading to several super-spreader episodes — the new rules will apply to all White House aides in "high proximity to principals."