Varda Space And Rocket Lab Successfully Land First-of-its-kind Spacecraft In Utah


A spacecraft carrying pharmaceutical drugs grown in space has returned to Earth after more than eight months in orbit. Varda Space Industries’ in-space manufacturing capsule, Winnebago-1, landed in the Utah desert at approximately 4:40 p.m. EST. The capsule contains crystals of the drug ritonavir, used in treating HIV/AIDS. This marks the successful conclusion of Varda’s experimental mission to grow pharmaceuticals in orbit and the first time a commercial company has landed a spacecraft on U.S. soil.

Key Takeaway

Varda Space Industries and Rocket Lab have successfully landed a spacecraft containing pharmaceutical drugs grown in space, marking a significant milestone in in-space manufacturing and commercial space exploration.

Analysis and Research

The capsule will be transported back to Varda’s facilities in Los Angeles for analysis, while the ritonavir vials will be sent to research company Improved Pharma for post-flight characterization. Varda has also committed to sharing all mission data with the Air Force and NASA, as per existing agreements.

Partnership with Rocket Lab

Rocket Lab, Varda’s partner in the mission, played a crucial role in hosting Varda’s manufacturing capsule inside its Photon satellite bus. Throughout the mission, Photon provided essential operations such as power, communications, and attitude control. At the mission’s conclusion, the bus executed maneuvers and de-orbit burns to ensure the capsule’s proper reentry trajectory. The final engine burn occurred shortly after 4 p.m. EST, with Photon burning up in the atmosphere as planned while the capsule, protected by a heat shield and parachute, continued its landing.

Mission Extension and Future Plans

Varda’s mission, initially planned for a month, was extended due to regulatory issues. The company’s application for a commercial reentry license was denied, but the Federal Aviation Administration approved the reentry last Thursday. Varda, founded in 2020, aims to tap into pharmaceutical and semiconductor manufacturing markets by leveraging the unique microgravity environment. The company plans to conduct more missions, with three already under contract with Rocket Lab and a goal of achieving a monthly cadence by 2026.

Upcoming Missions

Varda is preparing for a second mission this summer, with the capsule set to land in Australia’s Koonibba Test Range later this year.

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