Factories in space? Yeah it’s a thing now
Iyou started with a 3D printer. It can end with factories in space.
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One of the first things printed in space, says Made in Space, was a simple key – needed to replace an astronaut’s misplaced key. It turned out to be an ideal experience for two reasons: first, because it demonstrated the benefits of being able to print a needed item immediately and on location, rather than having to “call” in Houston and have a new key sent by rocket.
And second, because of the potential cost savings. You see, getting something physical from Earth to orbit – whether it’s a satellite or a computer or just a simple wrench – costs at least $ 5,000 per kilogram (2.2 pounds). But once it is possible to take raw materials collected “in space” and print them into new finished articles, the cost of putting into orbit comes down to the cost of emailing a set. instructions to the printer.
And there’s also a third benefit to manufacturing in space – and that’s a big plus for investors.
Image source: Getty Images.
You can’t do that here
Turns out, one of the best reasons to make things in space is the fact that some things can only be made in a zero gravity environment – which brings us to Varda Space Industries and Rocket Lab.
S&P Global Market Intelligence shows that Varda Space, which operates in a suburb of Los Angeles a few miles south of SpaceX, has already attracted $ 51 million in seed money from venture capital firms. The company says its mission is to build “the world’s first weightless commercial industrial park” in orbit. Only then, according to the company, are the conditions right to make “more powerful fiber optic cables” and “new life-saving pharmaceuticals” that cannot be produced on Earth.
But first, Varda has to prove the concept. And for that, he turned to the small rocket launcher and the future IPO Rocket Lab, currently known by its name SPAC (Special Acquisition Company), Vector acquisition company (NASDAQ: VACQ).
As the companies announced last week, Varda has hired Rocket Lab to produce three, or perhaps four, Photon spacecraft to orbit its Varda “space factories”. Weighing just 120 kilograms (265 pounds) each, “plant” is probably a generous term, but Varda says it’s large enough to allow each plant to produce 40 kilograms (88 pounds) to 60 kilograms (132 pounds) of Finished products. over the course of three months in orbit. Importantly, these factories will also include “re-entry modules” for returning products made in space to Earth – which is the ultimate goal of setting up factories in space, after all.
Wait a second…
“But wait!” you oppose it. Even if Varda’s space factories are able to successfully transform raw materials into finished products in space, won’t they need to bring the raw materials with them in the first place?
And the answer to this question is “yes”. Similar to how things work with 3D printing on the ISS, Varda will have to pay to launch both the space factories themselves, as well as the raw materials they will work with. So in this first attempt, at least, we won’t see any immediate solution to the high cost of moving Earth’s mass to orbit.
What this means for investors
That being said, Varda and Rocket Lab are still breaking new ground here and leading the way in the concept of putting factories into orbit. If they are successful, then the next logical step will be to start hunting for the raw materials already present in space (the moon being the most likely place to prospect). And with secure access to raw materials, Varda envisions a day when she could build space factories as large as the ISS itself and manufacture weightless products on a large scale.
At this point, it should be possible to inexpensively craft unique products that can only be crafted in space, and then deliver them to Earth.
We are probably years, if not decades away, from seeing this become a reality. But once that happens, a whole new space economy will emerge, offering all kinds of new investment opportunities. Varda and Rocket Lab’s mission will be one of the first steps towards achieving that goal – and that will happen in the first quarter of 2023.
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Rich Smith owns shares of Vector Acquisition Corporation. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.
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