Varda Space Delays Orbital Factory Reentry As Air Force And FAA Withhold Approvals


Varda Space Industries, a space startup specializing in in-space manufacturing, has faced delays in its plans to bring back its capsule carrying ritonavir crystals, a drug used to treat HIV. The U.S. Air Force has denied the company’s request to land the capsule at a Utah training area, and Varda is still awaiting a reentry license from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Key Takeaway

Varda Space Industries faces delays in reentering its capsule due to the denial of a landing request by the U.S. Air Force and the absence of a reentry license from the FAA. These challenges highlight the need to establish appropriate precedents for future commercial reentry activities. Varda is collaborating with regulators to address concerns and determine alternative plans for a safe and successful return.

Challenges in Landing and Regulatory Approvals

Initially, Varda had planned for a mid-July reentry of its capsule but faced setbacks due to the denial of the landing request. The company had then looked at possible dates of September 5 and 7, but with the ongoing challenges, the timeline remains uncertain.

The denial of the landing request by the U.S. Air Force was based on safety, risk, and impact analysis. The FAA, responsible for granting reentry licenses, has not yet provided the necessary approval. Varda, however, confirmed that its spacecraft is functioning well across all systems and that the company is working closely with regulators to ensure a safe return to Earth.

While Varda has not elaborated on its alternate plans, it is exploring options to address the landing concerns raised by the Air Force and seeking possible alternative landing sites.

Importance of Clearances for Future Commercial Reentry Activity

Varda’s proposed reentry cadence, aiming for monthly missions by 2026, marks a significant advancement in regular commercial reentry operations. The current delays in securing clearances from the Air Force and FAA highlight the need to establish appropriate precedents for future activities of this nature.

Both regulatory bodies, along with other government and interagency stakeholders, emphasize the importance of ensuring safe, secure, and sustainable reentry missions. They aim to establish guidelines and procedures that Varda and potential future partners can use as a model for their investments and engagement in commercial reentry activities.

Varda’s Collaboration with Rocket Lab

In this reentry mission, Varda is utilizing Rocket Lab’s Photon spacecraft, and they have plans for at least three subsequent missions. Varda’s manufacturing capsule, weighing 120 kilograms, is mounted on top of the Photon, which provides the necessary power, data capabilities, and attitude control for the mission. After reentry, Rocket Lab’s spacecraft will disintegrate in the atmosphere, while Varda’s capsule will deploy parachutes and make a controlled landing on Earth.

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