Varda Space Industries is building the first commercial zero-gravity industrial park at scale. They plan to make large amounts of better drugs, semiconductors, fiber optic cable and other products in near zero-g.
Varda has received $53M in venture funding from investors including Khosla Ventures, Lux Capital, Founders Fund, Caffeinated Capital, General Catalyst and Also Capital. They have been operating for about nine months and have about two dozen staff but are hiring rapidly.
They signed a deal with Rocket Lab today for three Photon spacecraft that will integrate with their space factories, enabling high-value products to be manufactured in zero-gravity and returned to Earth in Varda’s re-entry capsule.
Photon will support Varda’s 120 kg manufacturing and re-entry modules with power, data, and attitude control. All three Photon spacecraft will also incorporate Rocket Lab-designed and built spacecraft components, including radios, reaction wheels and star trackers. Rocket Lab’s Photon will also perform multiple burns with the 3D-printed Curie engine, acting as a highly capable propulsion system to place Varda’s re-entry capsule on a return trajectory to Earth.
Manufacturing in orbit has been too costly to scale. Making a space factory using the autonomous Photon spacecraft will drastically lower the costs.
The first Varda Photon is planned for delivery in Q1 2023, with the second to follow up later in the year and a third in 2024. The contract, which is subject to standard termination provisions, also includes an option for Varda to procure a fourth Photon. Each mission has a nominal three-month duration from launch to landing.
Rocket Lab’s Photon small spacecraft is based on the heritage Electron launch vehicle Kick Stage, leveraging numerous components that have significant flight heritage, including the Curie engine, an in-house designed and developed in-space propulsion system
Photon flies as the upper stage of Electron, eliminating the parasitic mass of deployed spacecraft and enabling full utilization of the fairing
Photon can also fly on other launch vehicles, in particular using ESPA ports as a secondary payload.
It costs about $7.5 million to launch an Electron rocket.
Varda needs to crack re-entry at an industrial scale to bring back the products.
They want to scale to a SpaceX launch vehicle every other day and bring back products every day.
SOURCES – Varda, Rocketlabs, John Coogan
Written by Brian Wang, Nextbigfuture.com
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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