Rocket Lab will supply multiple rockets to Varda Space Industries

Rocket Lab has announced that it has inked a deal with a company called Varda Space Industries. Varda is an in-space manufacturing company, and the deal will see Rocket Lab produce three Photon spacecraft to be integrated into the Varda space factories. The goal is to enable products to be manufactured in zero gravity and then returned to Earth using the Varda re-entry capsule.

Varda is targeting markets including fiber-optic cables, pharmaceuticals, and semiconductors. It says all have higher performance when produced in zero gravity. After the Photon launches, it will position the spacecraft in an optimal orbit and provide station keeping. The Varda manufacturing facility weighs 120 kilograms, and it will supply the manufacturing platform and re-entry modules with power, data, and attitude control.

The trio of spacecraft that Rocket Lab will build will feature components designed and built in-house, including radios, reaction wheels, and star trackers. Photon rockets use 3D-printed Curie engines that can place the Varda re-entry capsule on the required return trajectory to Earth.

The deal between Rocket Lab and Varda is a significant change from traditional space-based manufacturing. Typically, all in-space manufacturing is performed aboard ISS. Manufacturing in a microgravity environment has demonstrated the ability to produce products that can't be replicated on earth.

In-space manufacturing has been impossible to scale due to cost, but constructing a small-scale factory that doesn't need a human will allow Varda to manufacture products in space at scale for the first time. Rocket Lab will deliver the first Photon in Q1 2023. The second of the trio of rockets is expected later in 2023, with the third delivered in 2024. The contract also allows Varda the option to secure a fourth Photon rocket.