US Government Won’t Let Space Drugs Factory Come Back to Earth

Sorry everyone, but the Space Drug Factory can't come back to Earth just yet.

As reported last week by TechCrunch, Varda Space — the 0ff-Earth drug manufacturer currently working to develop pharmaceuticals in a low-orbit space factory — has postponed its spacecraft's atmosphere-reentry plans, saying that neither the US Air Force (USAF) nor the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have cleared its orbital production facility for a return back to Earth.

"Sept 5 and 7 were their primary targets," a spokesperson for the USAF told TechCrunch in an email. Apparently, Varda had asked if it could land its module on a USAF training area in Utah, and the military branch said no. "The request to use the Utah Test and Training Range for the landing location was not granted at this time due to the overall safety, risk and impact analysis," the USAF spokesperson continued, noting that the FAA's hesitance to grant a reentry license is part of a "separate process."

A spokesperson for the FAA, meanwhile, told TechCrunch that Varda's reentry application was rejected on September 6 due to a failure to "demonstrate compliance with regulatory requirements."

"On September 8, Varda formally requested that the FAA reconsider its decision," the FAA spokesperson added. "The request for reconsideration is pending."

Varda has yet to issue an official statement, but took to X-formerly-Twitter on Sept 15 to assure the masses that its "spacecraft is healthy across all systems."

"It was originally designed for a full year on orbit if needed," the post continued. "We look forward to continuing to collaborate w/ our gov partners to bring our capsule back to Earth as soon as possible."

The pharmaceutical manufacturer's spacecraft has been off-planet for a few months now, having launched back in June on board a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The goal, Varda says, is to utilize microgravity's effect on various atoms and molecules as a means to manufacture drugs — known and unknown — differently than we might on Earth. According to Varda, the mission has thus far been a success, with the company claiming that its spacecraft-faring robots (did we mention that robots are doing the drug manufacturing?) had succeeded in growing crystals of the HIV drug ritonavir.

"SPACE DRUGS HAVE FINISHED COOKING BABY!!" Delian Asparouhov, one of the venture's co-founders, wrote in a June 30 X post celebrating Varda's purported triumph.

As it stands, it's unclear how, exactly, Varda has failed to comply with USAF and FAA standards, aside from the fact that getting a trunk of space-cooked pharmaceuticals back into Earth's atmosphere is wholly uncharted territory. Regardless, cooked or uncooked, it appears that said space drugs are staying put for the time being.

More on Varda: Startup Wants to Use Robots to Make Drugs in Space