Varda Space Industrie's space manufacturing capsule touches down in at the Utah Test and Training Range near Salt Lake City after about eight months in space. Courtesy of John Kraus for Varda.

The world’s first space factory touched down in Utah Wednesday afternoon, concluding an eight-month mission by Varda Space Industries and Long Beach-based Rocket Lab.

The mission was the first space manufacturing effort conducted outside the International Space Station, according to Rocket Lab. Varda’s in-space manufacturing capsule, dubbed Winnebago-1, tested how its HIV-AIDS drug ritonavir would crystalize in microgravity, which has been proven to create more stable pharmaceuticals.

In June 2023, the Varda manufacturing capsule, which was hosted inside a Rocket Lab Photon satellite bus, was launched into orbit aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The mission was slated to last about one month but Varda faced delays securing reentry approval from the Federal Aviation Administration.

The mission marks the first time a commercial company has landed a spacecraft on U.S. soil.

Rocket Lab conducted in-space operations, including providing power, communications, ground control and attitude control. At the conclusion of the mission, the Long Beach firm oversaw deorbit and reentry positioning maneuvers to bring Varda’s capsule back to Earth — with a margin of error of less than 0.05%, according to the company.

A Varda Space Industries employee inspects a space manufacturing capsule after it touched down in Utah following an eight-month space mission. Courtesy of John Kraus for Varda.

Varda took over management of its capsules’ hypersonic reentry, parachute deployment and touchdown at the Utah Test and Training Range near Salt Lake City.

While the mission was a success for Varda, which will now have its samples analyzed by Improved Pharma, with data to be shared with the U.S. Air Force and NASA, it was doubly so for Rocket Lab. Photon was initially designed for a four-month lifespan on orbit but successfully operated for more than twice as long.

“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,” Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck said in a statement.

“The success of this reentry mission will also inform our work on developing a reentry capsule for Neutron to potentially enable human spaceflight missions,” he added.