Varda co-founders Delian Asparouhov (left) and Will Bruey.
Varda Space Industries
Varda Space Industries, a start-up founded less than a year ago by a couple with experience at Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund, has now raised more than $ 50 million while on its first mission in the first quarter of 2023.
“The Varda mission is to build the first space factory – essentially the first industrial park in orbit,” CEO Will Bruey, who has spent much of the last decade on SpaceX’s Cargo Dragon spacecraft, told CNBC.
Varda raised $ 42 million in a round led by Khosla Ventures and Caffeinated Capital, which also included investors such as Lux Capital, General Catalyst and Founders Fund. With $ 11 million raised in a previous seed round, the company has raised $ 53 million since it was founded eight months ago.
Varda, based in Torrance, California, was founded by the director of the Bruey and Founders Fund, Delian Asparouhov. The couple have so far assembled a team of 16 from across the aerospace world, including several from Musk’s company, and expect Varda to grow to a team of 40+ by the time of initial launch.
The product: bringing materials back to earth quickly
At the company’s headquarters in Torrance, California.
Varda Space Industries
Making materials in space is not a new concept as the International Space Station has served as a test bed for a wide variety of companies and products. Specifically, SpaceX brings thousands of pounds of cargo and research to and from the ISS every six months. But Varda wants to go one step further to bring spacecrafted products to market and return them faster.
“The way we judge our success is the frequency of re-entry because that is the frequency with which we bring value back to Earth,” said Asparouhov.
Asparouhov differentiated Varda from other companies involved in manufacturing in space by saying that his company is focused on how this adds value on Earth, not in space. Varda will try to open up markets for products such as semiconductors, fiber optic cables or pharmaceuticals – “extremely large” marketplaces here, said Asparouhov. He also said that “Varda can exist because we don’t have to build the entire” technology system “ourselves,” stressed Bruey.
“Nothing we do is new except in sum,” said Bruey.
Varda is building a three-part spacecraft, consisting of a commercially available spacecraft platform, the manufacturing module and a heat shield protected capsule to re-enter through the atmosphere and land under parachutes. The company is aiming for its first launch and re-entry in 18 months with the goal of bringing back approximately 100 kilograms (or 220 pounds) of material. Varda is currently at the preliminary design review level, Bruey said, discussing final details with regulators and stakeholders.
Bruey said Varda expects its first mission to be launched on a “rideshare” launch, where a rocket goes alongside other spacecraft. Asparouhov added that the company will re-enter its capsule overland in the US “to keep costs as low as possible”. The destination landing site is not yet known, but Asparouhov noted that there are few suitable locations as it must be a large area with no local population, “probably a desert”.
The funds raised so far will take the company “on our first mission,” said Asparouhov, and “may even be able to go through to our second mission”.
Asparouhov pointed to the recent attention and excitement surrounding the launches of billionaires Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos focusing on how humans can reach space.
“But I feel like it’s actually pretty relevant [to Varda]because we can offer the benefits of space to everyone down here on earth and we can do so for the same reasons … that the startup costs are cheaper and the infrastructure is cheaper, “said Asparouhov.
“I believe [Varda can go after] a much bigger market than space tourism in terms of products that… affect the lives of many people here on earth, ”added Asparouhov. “We have to start with a commercially pragmatic step-by-step approach. So first with a [low Earth orbit] Mission, and then we will steadily expand from there to larger missions and go to more fixed stations in orbit. ”
Become a smarter investor with CNBC Pro.
Get stock picks, analyst calls, exclusive interviews and access to CNBC TV.
Sign in to one. to start Try it for free today.