Rocket Lab Successfully Returns Spacecraft Capsule to Earth, Brings Back Pharmaceuticals Made in Space

The Rocket Lab spacecraft designed, built, and operated for Varda Space Industries which enabled the production of pharmaceutical products on orbit, has been returned to Earth

Rocket Lab USA, Inc (Nasdaq: RKLB) (“Rocket Lab” or “the Company”), a leading launch and space systems company, today announced its custom spacecraft for Varda Space Industries (“Varda”), a leading 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.

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Rocket Lab's spacecraft for Varda Space Industries (Photo: Business Wire)

Rocket Lab's spacecraft for Varda Space Industries (Photo: Business Wire)

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 shortly after 21:30 UTC today.

Today’s 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 spacecraft engine, flight software, avionics, reaction wheels, star trackers, capsule dispenser, solar panels, radio, composite structures and tanks, and more.

While initially designed for a four-month lifespan on orbit, the mission timeline was more than doubled with Rocket Lab’s spacecraft successfully provided 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.”

Today’s 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.

+ About Rocket Lab

Founded in 2006, Rocket Lab is an end-to-end space company with an established track record of mission success. We deliver reliable launch services, satellite manufacture, spacecraft components, and on-orbit management solutions that make it faster, easier and more affordable to access space. Headquartered in Long Beach, California, Rocket Lab designs and manufactures the Electron small orbital launch vehicle and the Photon satellite platform and is developing the Neutron 13-ton payload class launch vehicle. Since its first orbital launch in January 2018, Rocket Lab’s Electron launch vehicle has become the second most frequently launched U.S. rocket annually and has delivered 171 satellites to orbit for private and public sector organizations, enabling operations in national security, scientific research, space debris mitigation, Earth observation, climate monitoring, and communications. Rocket Lab’s Photon spacecraft platform has been selected to support NASA missions to the Moon and Mars, as well as the first private commercial mission to Venus. Rocket Lab has three launch pads at two launch sites, including two launch pads at a private orbital launch site located in New Zealand and a third launch site in Virginia, USA. To learn more, visit


This press release may contain certain “forward-looking statements” within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995, Section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933, as amended, and Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended. All statements, other than statements of historical facts, contained in this press release, including statements regarding our expectations of financial results for the third quarter of 2023, strategy, future operations, future financial position, projected costs, prospects, plans and objectives of management, are forward-looking statements. Words such as, but not limited to, “anticipate,” “aim,” “believe,” “contemplate,” “continue,” “could,” “design,” “estimate,” “expect,” “intend,” “may,” “might,” “plan,” “possible,” “potential,” “predict,” “project,” “seek,” “should,” “suggest,” “strategy,” “target,” “will,” “would,” and similar expressions or phrases, or the negative of those expressions or phrases, are intended to identify forward-looking statements, although not all forward-looking statements contain these identifying words. These forward-looking statements are based on Rocket Lab’s current expectations and beliefs concerning future developments and their potential effects. These forward-looking statements involve a number of risks, uncertainties (many of which are beyond Rocket Lab’s control), or other assumptions that may cause actual results or performance to be materially different from those expressed or implied by these forward-looking statements. Many factors could cause actual future events to differ materially from the forward-looking statements in this release, including risks related to delays and disruptions in expansion efforts; our dependence on a limited number of customers; the harsh and unpredictable environment of space in which our products operate which could adversely affect our launch vehicle and spacecraft; increased congestion from the proliferation of low Earth orbit constellations which could materially increase the risk of potential collision with space debris or another spacecraft and limit or impair our launch flexibility and/or access to our own orbital slots; increased competition in our industry due in part to rapid technological development and decreasing costs; technological change in our industry which we may not be able to keep up with or which may render our services uncompetitive; average selling price trends; general economic uncertainty and turbulence which could impact our customers’ ability to pay what we are owed; failure of our launch vehicles, spacecraft and components to operate as intended either due to our error in design in production or through no fault of our own; launch schedule disruptions; supply chain disruptions, product delays or failures; design and engineering flaws; launch failures; natural disasters and epidemics or pandemics; any inability to effectively integrate recently acquired assets; changes in governmental regulations including with respect to trade and export restrictions, or in the status of our regulatory approvals or applications; or other events that force us to cancel or reschedule launches, including customer contractual rescheduling and termination rights; risks that acquisitions may not be completed on the anticipated time frame or at all or do not achieve the anticipated benefits and results; and the other risks detailed from time to time in Rocket Lab’s filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”), including under the heading “Risk Factors” in Rocket Lab’s Annual Report on Form 10-K for the fiscal year ended December 31, 2022, which was filed with the SEC on March 7, 2023, and elsewhere. There can be no assurance that the future developments affecting Rocket Lab will be those that we have anticipated. Except as required by law, Rocket Lab is not undertaking any obligation to update or revise any forward-looking statements whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise.


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