In five years, Palmer Luckey’s Anduril Industries has seen its AI-powered sentry towers land big contracts to monitor border activity between the U.S. and Mexico, built a next-gen drone-led defense system that’s won a billion-dollar military deal, and started up a submarine business that in less than a year won a good-sized chunk of business from Australia’s military.
With land, air and sea security all being addressed, what’s next on the plate of 29-year-old Luckey, creator of two of the most successful tech startups in Orange County history via Anduril and Oculus VR?
A July 8 tweet suggests a new frontier for the tech-focused defense contractor.
Said Luckey: “Anduril to the moon!”
On July 7, the government-backed Defense Innovation Unit’s (DUI) Hybrid Space Architecture program announced that Anduril had been awarded a contract, along with three others, to be part of a project that seeks to build a new tech platform where commercial, civil and military satellites can share data in space.
“Hybrid space communications is the next great leap forward,” DIU said in a statement.
Leveraging Small Wins
Luckey’s rise, and that of Costa Mesa’s Anduril during it’s five-year history, is nothing short of out-of-this-world—making the latest contract win an apt metaphor.
The Business Journal’s estimate for Luckey’s wealth now stands at $3.1 billion, up 25% from a year ago. That places him No. 16 on the Business Journal’s latest OC’s Wealthiest list and corresponding special report, the centerpiece of this week’s edition.
He’s likely the wealthiest businessesperson under the age of 30 in Southern California, and has been on the OC’s Wealthiest list since selling Oculus to Facebook in 2014 for a reported $2.3 billion.
His latest gains largely come from the rapid boost in valuation for defense contractor Anduril, which was valued at $4.6 billion in June of last year after a new fund raise.
Recent national reports say Anduril has been seeking to raise more capital, one that could push its valuation to $7 billion or more. The company has declined to comment on the reports.
The new space-focused contract win for Anduril appears to be on the small side, for now.
The Silicon Valley-based DUI’s fiscal 2023 budget is likely to be in the $100 million range, though some lawmakers are trying to boost that figure considerably going forward, according to defense industry reports.
Anduril has used smaller-sized contract wins to get its foot in the door of other military and government agencies in the past though, and then used its ability to roll out new products much faster than larger contractors to land additional work.
It’s also been nimble in addressing new market opportunities.
In the company’s beginning, Anduril’s emphasis seemed to be more geared toward protection of the hotly contested Southern U.S. border, but the past several years have seen the firm evolve toward other pressing national defense issues.
Luckey this month repeated his longstanding stance that U.S. defense companies have been falling behind in high-tech systems, when speaking at the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen, Colo.
“The major defense companies in the U.S. were not effectively building the systems that I believe are going to be important to counter the investments that Russia and China, in particular, are making in artificial intelligence,” Luckey said.
Notable accomplishments for the company this year include:
• Anduril in January said it had landed a nearly $1 billion deal with the Pentagon to help develop protections against drones, the rapidly proliferating flying devices that are increasingly seen as a threat to national security.
• Anduril said in May it was working with the Australian Defence Force on the development of undersea vehicles.
• That came a month after the company bought underwater dronemaker Dive Technologies of suburban Boston on undisclosed terms.
• Anduril said July 14 it would invest $60 million in a new manufacturing and research facility in Atlanta, creating more than 180 new jobs in Fulton County over the next three years.
• Earlier this year, Anduril moved into its new headquarters in Costa Mesa. When built out, the campus will run 640,000 square feet, making the upstart defense tech firm one of Orange County’s largest office tenants.