Rocket Lab Successfully Returns Varda Space Industries' Spacecraft Capsule to Earth

Rocket Lab Successfully Returns Varda Space Industries' Spacecraft Capsule to Earth

Rocket Lab USA, a launch and space systems company, announced its custom spacecraft for Varda Space Industries, an in-space manufacturing, and hypersonic reentry logistics company, successfully returned to Earth the world’s first space manufacturing mission conducted outside of the International Space Station.

Rocket Lab conducted in-space operations, deorbit, and reentry positioning maneuvers for its spacecraft, enabling Varda’s reentry capsule and payload of pharmaceutical crystals to return to Earth. With Rocket Lab’s role in the mission complete, the Varda team then took over management of the capsule’s hypersonic reentry, parachute deployment, and touchdown in the designated zone at the Utah Test and Training Range (UTTR) near Salt Lake City.

The mission is a successful demonstration of Rocket Lab’s end-to-end space systems solutions tailored to enable novel and innovative missions for a range of customers. Rocket Lab designed, manufactured, and operated a bespoke spacecraft to enable Varda’s capsule manufacturing demonstration. The spacecraft included a full suite of Rocket Lab sub-systems and components built in-house, spanning the spacecraft engine, flight software, avionics, reaction wheels, star trackers, capsule dispenser, solar panels, radio, composite structures, tanks, and more.

While initially designed for a four-month lifespan in orbit, the mission timeline was more than doubled with Rocket Lab’s spacecraft successfully providing power, communications, ground control, and attitude control to Varda’s capsule on orbit for more than eight months. This enabled Varda’s capsule to grow Ritonavir crystals, commonly used in antiviral medication. As particles function differently when no longer under the force of gravity, Varda’s capsule utilizes microgravity conditions in space to formulate a range of pharmaceutical products.

Rocket Lab also supported the mission with 24/7 satellite operations to return Varda’s capsule to Earth. Rocket Lab’s operations team completed multiple on-orbit trajectory optimization maneuvers that set the mission on its return-to-Earth trajectory, including four engine relights of Rocket Lab’s 3D printed Curie propulsion system to move Varda’s mission from a circular Earth orbit to an elliptical one, positioning Varda’s capsule for a return to Earth at hypersonic speeds greater than Mach 25, or approximately 30,000 km per hour. 

Deploying Varda’s capsule on a hypersonic reentry trajectory to land within the incredibly tight boundaries of the mission’s landing zone within the UTTR was an especially complex task that demanded pinpoint accuracy with a margin of error of less than 0.05%. Varda’s recovery operations are now in full swing and once the capsule is retrieved by Varda, the company will conduct laboratory analysis of the space-grown crystals and determine its next steps for commercializing orbital drug processing and microgravity manufacturing.

Peter Beck, Rocket Lab founder and CEO, says: “This mission was a phenomenal feat and impressive display of teamwork between the Rocket Lab and Varda teams to develop a unique and highly capable spacecraft, successfully demonstrate in-space manufacturing, and bring back the capsule and finished pharmaceutical product – all on the first attempt. Being part of the first pharmaceutical in-space mission to happen outside of the International Space Station is immensely exciting and we look forward to building on this success with more Rocket Lab spacecraft in development for Varda right now. The success of this reentry mission will also inform our work on developing a reentry capsule for Neutron to potentially enable human spaceflight missions.”

The returned mission is the first of four Rocket Lab spacecraft ordered by Varda to support its in-space pharmaceutical processing. The remaining spacecraft are currently undergoing assembly, integration, and testing at Rocket Lab’s spacecraft production facility in Long Beach, California, with the next spacecraft scheduled to launch before the end of the year.  

These spacecraft for Varda are just some of the 25+ spacecraft currently under development at Rocket Lab’s advanced spacecraft development and manufacturing complex, which features a 10,000 sq. ft. cleanroom and 40,000 sq. ft. of production & test facilities designed to support constellation-class manufacturing and satellite assembly, integration and test for commercial, civil and national security customers.

Click here to learn more about Rocket Lab's Launch and Space Systems Services.

Click here to learn more about Varda Space's In-space Manufacturing Capsule.

Publisher: SatNow

GNSS Constellations - A list of all GNSS satellites by constellations


Satellite NameOrbit Date
BeiDou-3 G4Geostationary Orbit (GEO)17 May, 2023
BeiDou-3 G2Geostationary Orbit (GEO)09 Mar, 2020
Compass-IGSO7Inclined Geosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)09 Feb, 2020
BeiDou-3 M19Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)16 Dec, 2019
BeiDou-3 M20Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)16 Dec, 2019
BeiDou-3 M21Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)23 Nov, 2019
BeiDou-3 M22Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)23 Nov, 2019
BeiDou-3 I3Inclined Geosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)04 Nov, 2019
BeiDou-3 M23Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)22 Sep, 2019
BeiDou-3 M24Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)22 Sep, 2019


Satellite NameOrbit Date
GSAT0223MEO - Near-Circular05 Dec, 2021
GSAT0224MEO - Near-Circular05 Dec, 2021
GSAT0219MEO - Near-Circular25 Jul, 2018
GSAT0220MEO - Near-Circular25 Jul, 2018
GSAT0221MEO - Near-Circular25 Jul, 2018
GSAT0222MEO - Near-Circular25 Jul, 2018
GSAT0215MEO - Near-Circular12 Dec, 2017
GSAT0216MEO - Near-Circular12 Dec, 2017
GSAT0217MEO - Near-Circular12 Dec, 2017
GSAT0218MEO - Near-Circular12 Dec, 2017


Satellite NameOrbit Date
Kosmos 2569--07 Aug, 2023
Kosmos 2564--28 Nov, 2022
Kosmos 2559--10 Oct, 2022
Kosmos 2557--07 Jul, 2022
Kosmos 2547--25 Oct, 2020
Kosmos 2545--16 Mar, 2020
Kosmos 2544--11 Dec, 2019
Kosmos 2534--27 May, 2019
Kosmos 2529--03 Nov, 2018
Kosmos 2527--16 Jun, 2018


Satellite NameOrbit Date
Navstar 82Medium Earth Orbit19 Jan, 2023
Navstar 81Medium Earth Orbit17 Jun, 2021
Navstar 78Medium Earth Orbit22 Aug, 2019
Navstar 77Medium Earth Orbit23 Dec, 2018
Navstar 76Medium Earth Orbit05 Feb, 2016
Navstar 75Medium Earth Orbit31 Oct, 2015
Navstar 74Medium Earth Orbit15 Jul, 2015
Navstar 73Medium Earth Orbit25 Mar, 2015
Navstar 72Medium Earth Orbit29 Oct, 2014
Navstar 71Medium Earth Orbit02 Aug, 2014


Satellite NameOrbit Date
NVS-01Geostationary Orbit (GEO)29 May, 2023
IRNSS-1IInclined Geosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)12 Apr, 2018
IRNSS-1HSub Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (Sub-GTO)31 Aug, 2017
IRNSS-1GGeostationary Orbit (GEO)28 Apr, 2016
IRNSS-1FGeostationary Orbit (GEO)10 Mar, 2016
IRNSS-1EGeosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)20 Jan, 2016
IRNSS-1DInclined Geosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)28 Mar, 2015
IRNSS-1CGeostationary Orbit (GEO)16 Oct, 2014
IRNSS-1BInclined Geosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)04 Apr, 2014
IRNSS-1AInclined Geosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)01 Jul, 2013