Manufacturing materials in space isn’t a new concept – the International Space Station has hosted many companies that do precisely this – but Varda Space Industries’ dedicated manufacturing platforms are designed specifically for production to return to Earth in relatively quick timeframes.
Varda Space Industries, a space manufacturing and hypersonic re-entry logistics company, was founded in 2020 by Will Bruey, a former employee of SpaceX, the company was founded in 2002 by Elon Musk with the goal of reducing space transportation costs and to colonise Mars, and partners Delian Asparouhov and Daniel Marshall.
Varda’s pilot spacecraft, which was sent to space via SpaceX’s commercial launch vehicle Transporter-8 in June 2023, is set to spend about three months in orbit, after which its re-entry vehicle will separate from the main spacecraft and send between 40 and 60 kilograms of product back to Earth at hypersonic speeds.
The Photon spacecraft, which was developed, manufactured and tested by American aerospace manufacturer Rocket Lab, provides power, communications, propulsion and altitude control to Varda’s 120-kilogram manufacturing capsule. The pilot spacecraft will enable the manufacture of high-value materials such as pharmaceutical products that can only be fabricated in microgravity.
In a microgravity environment devoid of dust particles, intricate products like computer chips or pharmaceuticals can be manufactured with superior precision and quality, compared to what can be achieved on Earth. ‘By eliminating factors such as natural convection and sedimentation, processing in a microgravity environment provides a unique path to formulating small molecules and biologics that traditional manufacturing processes cannot address,’ Varda explains. This unique fabrication environment leads to ‘improved bioavailability, extended shelf-life, new intellectual property and new routes of administration’.
Photographs: Varda Space Industries.