Rocket Lab’s Photon satellite in orbit around Earth.
Rocket Lab announced on Wednesday a contract with start-up Varda Space Industries to provide three Photon space probes to support Varda’s first manufacturing missions in space 18 months or older.
“In simple terms, we are the real estate and utilities for the space factory,” Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck told CNBC. “We really provide all the utilities, power, pointing and communication and everything for the little factory to work and do its thing.”
Beck declined to comment on the value of the contract, noting that it is “commercially sensitive to Varda and us”. Varda co-founder Delian Asparouhov told CNBC that the purchase of Photon allows us the most aggressive schedule and tightest budget.
“We are very excited to buy a platform that already has some flying heritage and will have more by the time it launches,” said Asparouhov.
Rocket Lab will deliver the first Photon spaceship to Varda in the first quarter of 2023. The company is expected to ship the next two starships the following year, and Varda will have the option to purchase a fourth photon.
The early Varda missions are scheduled to take three months, Rocket Lab said, from launch to re-entry into the capsule with the materials made. Beck emphasized that the Varda Photon missions will not start with a Rocket Lab rocket, but will instead fly as a secondary payload or “ride-sharing” on another company’s vehicle.
Founded less than a year ago by a couple with experience at Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund, Varda has raised more than $ 50 million during that time. Rocket Lab and Varda share Khosla Ventures as an investor.
While manufacturing in space isn’t a novel concept, Varda wants to take the process to the next level – to get space-crafted products to market faster. The start-up wants to manufacture materials that are more lucrative in weightlessness, such as fiber optic cables, pharmaceuticals and semiconductors.
Rocket Lab’s “Photon” satellite platform to the right can be seen in the company’s factory next to an upper stage of the Electron rocket.
Varda will use Rocket Lab’s Photon spaceship as the backbone of its operations, with the start-up adding its manufacturing module and a heat shield protected capsule to survive the intense re-entry process through Earth’s atmosphere. Varda’s goal is to bring back about 100 kilograms (or 220 pounds) of material for his early missions.
Rocket Lab, one of the most active US launch operators with its small electron rockets, has steadily expanded its space systems division with the photon probe as its centerpiece. However, Beck stressed that Rocket Lab “doesn’t see photon as a product, but as a set of products,” as each mission of the spacecraft is different. The company has won contracts to use photon for a variety of applications, including NASA missions to the moon and Mars, and a private mission to Venus.
When Rocket Lab announced plans to go public earlier this year through a merger with specialty acquisition firm Vector, it announced that it had posted $ 2 million in space systems sales for the past year. The company’s financial forecast assumes the space systems division will grow exponentially, with sales of $ 656 million by 2027.
The company is nearing completion of its SPAC merger, with a shareholders meeting scheduled for August 20 to vote on the deal. Beck said Rocket Lab is “very pleased with the progress” when it comes to shareholder votes so far.
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