Rocket Lab USA, Inc announced that it has completed and shipped a custom Photon spacecraft developed for Varda Space Industries, a skilled in-space manufacturing and hypersonic re-entry logistics company.
The Rocket Lab-designed and built Photon spacecraft will provide power, communications, propulsion, and attitude control to Varda’s 120kg capsule that will produce pharmaceutical products in microgravity and return them to Earth. In addition to providing support during the in-space manufacturing phase of Varda’s mission, the Photon will place Varda’s hypersonic re-entry capsule (carrying finished pharmaceuticals on board) on a return trajectory to Earth.
Varda’s space-manufactured products are targeting small molecule therapeutics, and over time larger molecules and biologics all of which can have higher efficacy when produced in microgravity, while the re-entry capsule provides opportunities to advance hypersonic systems. This mission will focus on small molecule formulation to provide insight into retrieved microgravity-grown pharmaceutical crystals, particularly the antiretroviral Ritonavir, an active ingredient in the COVID medication Paxlovid also used in the treatment of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).
The Photon spacecraft was developed, manufactured, and tested at Rocket Lab’s Spacecraft Production Facility in Long Beach, California. With final assembly, integration, and test of the spacecraft complete, the fully integrated Varda spacecraft has been shipped to Vandenberg Space Force Base for launch on a commercial rideshare mission scheduled for no earlier than June 8.
This Photon spacecraft is the first of four ordered by Varda to support in-space pharmaceutical manufacturing. Leveraging Rocket Lab’s deep vertical integration, all Photon spacecraft incorporate Rocket Lab-designed and manufactured components and software including star trackers, propulsion, reaction wheels, solar panels, flight software, radios, composite structures and tanks, and separation systems.
“Opening access to space is about much more than launch for Rocket Lab. It’s about making it easier to put the ideas of tomorrow in orbit today, enabling innovation, rapid iteration and new capabilities that will improve lives back on Earth. This is exactly what the team at Varda is doing by producing novel pharmaceuticals in orbit and we’re immensely proud to make that possible with our Photon spacecraft,” says Rocket Lab founder and CEO, Peter Beck. “Space Systems is a rapidly growing part of Rocket Lab’s business, and we’re delighted to deliver another spacecraft that leverages our vertical integration strategy for high-quality and cost-effective satellite solutions on rapid timelines.”
“Rocket Lab has been an asset in developing and delivering this spacecraft on our schedule and budget,” says Varda Space Industries chief executive officer, Will Bruey. “Our engineers at Varda and the Rocket Lab team have worked together seamlessly and are excited by the benefits this spacecraft will bring to Earth and healthcare.”
Rocket Lab’s Photon spacecraft is a configurable spacecraft bus platform that can support a range of missions from low Earth orbit to interplanetary destinations. A high energy variant of Photon was developed and launched by Rocket Lab in 2022, deploying the CAPSTONE spacecraft to lunar orbit for NASA.
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