First ever space pharmaceutical factory enters orbit

California startup Varda Space has announced the successful deployment of the W-Series 1 satellite. It represents the first space pharmaceutical factory that will manufacture drugs in microgravity.

Production of medicines in zero gravity

Varda Space was founded in 2020 with the aim of creating an orbital production of components and materials that were difficult to create on the surface of the Earth. Among them are some types of computer chips, new varieties of optical fiber, as well as pharmaceuticals.

Varda Space Orbital Factory (concept). Source: Varda Space

The latter option is of particular interest. According to experts, in zero gravity conditions, there are no convection currents in the liquid, because there is no “top” to which heat could rise. As a result, the particles in the liquid do not form lumps and do not rise to the surface or sink to the bottom, as it happens on Earth. This makes it possible to produce drugs in crystal form with extreme precision, which can improve their effectiveness, availability and shelf life, as well as create new drugs. 

Considering how much modern drugs cost, successful orbital production can bring very good money. As one example, Varda Space cites the drug for the treatment of leukemia Blincyto, which costs 114.3 billion US dollars per kilogram. Or the mRNA at the heart of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine. Two gallons of this drug is equal to all the doses that Pfizer has manufactured to date. They brought the company more than USD 75 billion. Being stacked in stacks of hundred-dollar bills, they would have covered 82% of the way to space (if you count it from the 100 km mark).

Orbital Factory

The first Varda Space orbital factory was launched on June 12 by a Falcon 9 rocket. The spacecraft was manufactured by Rocket Lab. The satellite successfully separated from the carrier, deployed solar panels, and has already contacted the Earth. 

After completing all the necessary checks, the W-Series 1 will begin production of an HIV drug. Crystals of the active substance will be subjected to various experiments to test how their properties and structure change in space. After the experiment is completed, the spacecraft will turn on the braking engine, after which the capsule with the obtained materials will return to Earth.

Varda Space Orbital Factory (concept). Source: Varda Space

It is worth noting that in total, Varda Space has ordered four satellites from Rocket Lab. During the next missions, the company will test the production of other promising materials in orbit.

According to

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