In-Space Manufacturing Startup Aces Pharma Experiment in Orbit

One more big test remains for Varda’s first-of-its-kind “space factory.”

The co-founder of California-based startup Varda Space Industries says his company’s first space mission—a miniature lab that has grown crystals of the drug ritonavir in orbit—is on track to end in the coming weeks with a first-of-its-kind re-entry and landing in Utah.

Varda’s spacecraft launched June 12 as part of a rideshare mission on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, then completed several weeks of checkouts before starting a 27-hour drug-manufacturing experiment last week. When ground controllers gave the go-ahead, the mini-lab began growing crystals of ritonavir, a drug commonly used to treat HIV.

The experiment’s 27-hour run was completed on June 30, and data downlinked from the spacecraft showed everything went well.

“For the first time ever, orbital drug processing happened outside of a government-run space station,” Varda tweeted. “This is our first step in commercializing microgravity and building an industrial park in LEO (Low Earth Orbit).”

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