Stranded Space Factory Finally Gets OK to Return to Earth

It's scheduled for re-entry later this week.

Eight months is a long time to be stuck in orbit but Varda Space Industries’ flying pharmaceutical factory has finally been given clearance to come home.

In September 2023, the U.S. Air Force denied Varda’s request for permission to land a capsule at a Utah training facility. According to TechCrunch, the Air Force said it couldn’t grant the request due to the “overall safety, risk and impact analysis.”

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Last week, however, Varda said that after working closely with government partners and its satellite provider, Rocket Lab, it has earned FAA approval for a re-entry attempt later this week. The company said this is the first time the U.S. has granted a Part 450 re-entry license, allowing a commercial entity to land a spacecraft on U.S. soil.

Varda Space said, “We are incredibly proud to have this opportunity with our government partners, and appreciate their dedication to safe innovation in the United States.”

The company’s spacecraft has already successfully achieved its initial burn stage and is targeting second burn for midday tomorrow and final burn for February 21.

After launching in June, Varda had originally been targeting a September re-entry but, after the mishap, assured that the spacecraft and its cargo were designed to last longer if needed.

“It was originally designed for a full year on orbit if needed,” the company said in a statement. “We look forward to continuing to collaborate w/ our gov partners to bring our capsule back to Earth as soon as possible.”

Varda’s capsule was carried by a satellite bus – supplied by Rocket Lab – while in orbit. The capsule provided a low-gravity environment for Varda’s machines to make pharmaceutical components. During the current mission, Varda was making crystals for a drug used to treat HIV.

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