WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
There are certain products that when in made in space are much higher quality than on Earth where gravity affects them.
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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 and that 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.
The Future of Space, by keynote Matthew Griffin
The W-Series 1 satellite is housed within one of Rocket Lab’s Photon platforms, a satellite solution that NASA has also contracted for two Mars missions next year. Varda’s satellite launch is part of the company’s test campaign to determine whether its satellite solution can be used to develop pharmaceuticals in space.
The company was founded by ex-SpaceX avionics engineer Will Bruey and Delian Asparouhov of Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund. Its goal is to enable the mass production of certain products from space. This will be enabled largely by the increased accessibility to space in recent years thanks to private launch service providers such as SpaceX and Rocket Lab.
Varda’s work builds on scientific research showing that protein crystals grown in space can form more perfect structures than those produced on Earth, where the formation process is adversely affected by gravity.
One example comes from research carried out by pharmaceutical firm Merck aboard the International Space Station, a report from CNN reveals. That study found that a more stable version of the active ingredient pembrolizumab, used in the cancer drug Keytruda, could be produced in microgravity.
Varda’s first mission will focus on researching the in-space development of Ritonavir, a drug traditionally used to treat HIV but more recently used in Paxlovid, an anti-viral medication used to treat Covid-19.
Varda has also separately signed an agreement with the US Air Force to perform hypersonic tests. The company’s test rig will travel at a speed of Mach-25 during its reentry to Earth’s atmosphere. The company announced in March that it had won a $60 million contract from US Air Force STRATFI to use its re-entry vehicle as a hypersonic testbed.