•  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  

Varda Space is a space manufacturing startup that will launch its first spacecraft on a Falcon 9. The company sets the date of a mission in early 2023. The core idea of the flight is to demonstrate the ability to produce a wide range of materials in microgravity. 

Varda Space announced the cooperation with SpaceX on October the 11th when two companies signed a launch service agreement, for that smallsat, which will be part of a Falcon 9 rideshare mission scheduled for the first quarter of 2023. The companies didn’t reveal any details about their contract. 

According to Space News, the spacecraft will spend up to three months in orbit to test space manufacturing technologies. At the end of the mission, the vehicle should deliver to Earth all the materials it produced in orbit.

Varda Space executives said that SpaceX offered the least expensive and the most reliable variant to carry its 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.

Earlier the company purchased three Photon satellite buses from Rocket Lab in August, but that didn’t change the decision not to launch the spacecraft on a Rocket Lab Electron. “There was favorable economics for Photon and Electron,” Asparouhov said, but he was concerned about being too reliant on a single company. “If you concentrate risk around one vendor, it can be hard to recover.”

He added that Varda Space hadn’t ruled out launching on Electron in the future, and also hadn’t decided on launches after this initial mission. “The playing field is changing so rapidly,” he said. “There’s a world where we don’t necessarily launch with SpaceX on our second and later missions.”

Unlike communications and imaging spacecraft, Varda Space does not require a specific orbit for its mission beyond remaining in low Earth orbit, making it ideal for rideshare launches. “The only thing that matters is that the orbital inclination is high enough to go over our landing site,” Bruey said. The reentry capsule will come down over land, although the company has not disclosed a specific location.

The spacecraft is the first in a series designed to demonstrate the technologies needed to manufacture materials in microgravity. The second and third spacecraft will launch by the end of 2024, following an iterative approach building upon the lessons of previous missions. “The key to success is putting working hardware in orbit quickly,” Bruey said.

Varda Space, based in Torrance, California, announced a $42 million Series A round in July led by Khosla Ventures and Caffeinated Capital and has raised more than $53 million to date. The company, though, has been vague about exactly what it will manufacture in space, mentioning a range of high-value products from pharmaceuticals to optical fiber.

Asparouhov didn’t give any details about what material the spacecraft will produce. But it will definitely happen when the company signs a contract with a customer. He said there was a 50% chance that could happen in the next six months.

He added the company wants to take advantage of research done on the International Space Station as it prepares for its first mission. “The ISS has a wide variety of materials. We’re not doing new science,” he said.

The company is working on the technologies needed for space manufacturing that Asparouhov said will give it a competitive advantage. But that engineering is not nearly as challenging as developing the reentry capsule that will return the materials to Earth.

“Strictly speaking, reentry is harder than any manufacturing hardware apparatus,” Bruey said. “Hitting the atmosphere at Mach 28 is the hardest problem.”

0
0