Varda Space Industries aims to kickstart a new era of mass production of pharmaceuticals and other materials from Earth’s orbit.

A California-based startup co-founded by a SpaceX veteran, Varda Space Industries, announced it has successfully deployed its first satellite, W-Series 1, in orbit.

The company aims to kickstart the mass production of materials in space that either can’t be produced on Earth or are developed faster and with higher quality in microgravity conditions.

“The world’s first space factory’s solar panels have found the sun and it’s beginning to de-tumble,” Varda announced on Twitter, shortly after the satellite was lifted to orbit aboard SpaceX’s Transporter-8 mission on Monday, June 13.

Startup deploys “world’s first space factory”

The Rocket Lab Photon platform, which NASA has also selected for two upcoming Mars missions, houses the W-Series 1 satellite.

The launch of Varda is part of the company’s attempt to examine if their satellite solution can be used to create pharmaceuticals in space.

The company was founded by Delian Asparouhov, a partner at Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund, and Will Bruey, a former avionics engineer for SpaceX. Its goal is to enable the mass production of certain items from space. This will be made possible in large part by the recent developments in commercial launch services made available by companies like SpaceX and Rocket Lab.

According to Varda’s website, “there is a world of products used on Earth today that can only be manufactured in space,” from stronger fibre optic connections to brand-new, life-saving drugs.

Developing drugs in space

Varda’s work is based on scientific studies demonstrating that protein crystals generated in space may form more precise shapes than those developed on Earth, where gravity has a negative impact on the crystallisation process.

According to a CNN story, one example comes from studies done by the pharmaceutical company Merck onboard the International Space Station. According to that research, it was possible to manufacture a more stable form of the Keytruda’s active component, pembrolizumab, in microgravity.

Ritonavir, a substance once used to treat HIV but more recently included in Paxlovid, an antiviral therapy used to treat Covid-19, will be the subject of Varda’s maiden mission, which will concentrate on studying its development in space.

The U.S. Air Force and Varda have independently agreed to conduct hypersonic experiments. The test rig owned by the corporation will reenter the atmosphere at a speed of Mach-25. The business said in March that the U.S. Air Force STRATFI had awarded them a $60 million contract to deploy its re-entry vehicle as a hypersonic testbed.

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