Space Drugs Factory Denied Reentry to Earth

Varda’s in-space manufacturing capsule.

Varda’s in-space manufacturing capsule.

After manufacturing crystals of an HIV drug in space, the first orbital factory is stuck in orbit after being denied reentry back to Earth due to safety concerns.

The U.S. Air Force denied a request from Varda Space Industries to land its in-space manufacturing capsule at a Utah training area, while the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) did not grant the company permission to reenter Earth’s atmosphere, leaving its spacecraft hanging as the company scrambles to find a solution, TechCrunch first reported. A spokesperson from the FAA told TechCrunch in an emailed statement that the company’s request was not granted at this time “due to the overall safety, risk and impact analysis.”

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“It’s a very different type of re-entry capsule. If you think about it, both Dragon and Starliner, these are [SpaceX] vehicles that are $100 million-plus, minimum, to build, and billion-dollar-plus total programs. These are meant to carry humans, have active control, fully pressurized environments,” Asparouhov is quoted as saying in an interview in Ars Technica. “We are effectively the polar opposite type of re-entry vehicle. If those are luxurious limousines, we’re building like a 1986 Toyota Corolla that is meant to be less than a million bucks a pop, quickly refurbished, and then shot right back into space.”

Varda’s in-space manufacturing capsule is a byproduct of a growing space industry, which grants easier access to low Earth orbit. The current regulatory debacle is a also the result of a young space industry, one in which proper regulations of spacecraft are still taking shape.

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