Rocket Lab Completes Custom-Built Photon Spacecraft for Varda Space Industries

The spacecraft is the first of four to be completed for Varda Space Industries to enable in-space pharmaceutical manufacturing

Rocket Lab USA, Inc. (Nasdaq: RKLB) (“Rocket Lab” or “the Company”), a global leader in launch services and space systems, today announced it has completed and shipped a custom Photon spacecraft developed for Varda Space Industries (“Varda”), a leading in-space manufacturing and hypersonic re-entry logistics company.

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Rocket Lab's Photon spacecraft integrated with Varda Space Industry's in-space manufacturing capsule. (Photo: Business Wire)

Rocket Lab's Photon spacecraft integrated with Varda Space Industry's in-space manufacturing capsule. (Photo: Business Wire)

The Rocket Lab-designed and built Photon spacecraft will provide power, communications, propulsion, and attitude control to Varda’s 120kg capsule that will produce pharmaceutical products in microgravity and return them to Earth. In addition to providing support during the in-space manufacturing phase of Varda’s mission, the Photon will place Varda’s hypersonic re-entry capsule (carrying finished pharmaceuticals on board) on a return trajectory to Earth. Varda’s space-manufactured products are targeting small molecule therapeutics, and over time larger molecules and biologics — all of which can have higher efficacy when produced in microgravity, while the re-entry capsule provides opportunities to advance hypersonic systems. This first mission will focus on small molecule formulation to provide insight into retrieved microgravity-grown pharmaceutical crystals, particularly the antiretroviral Ritonavir, an active ingredient in the COVID medication Paxlovid also used in the treatment of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).

The Photon spacecraft was developed, manufactured, and tested at Rocket Lab’s Spacecraft Production Facility in Long Beach, California. With final assembly, integration, and test of the spacecraft complete, the fully integrated Varda spacecraft has been shipped to Vandenberg Space Force Base for launch on a commercial rideshare mission scheduled for no earlier than June 8.

This Photon spacecraft is the first of four ordered by Varda to support in-space pharmaceutical manufacturing. Leveraging Rocket Lab’s deep vertical integration, all Photon spacecraft incorporate Rocket Lab-designed and manufactured components and software including star trackers, propulsion, reaction wheels, solar panels, flight software, radios, composite structures and tanks, and separation systems.

“Opening access to space is about much more than launch for Rocket Lab. It’s about making it easier to put the ideas of tomorrow in orbit today, enabling innovation, rapid iteration, and new capabilities that will improve lives back on Earth. This is exactly what the team at Varda is doing by producing novel pharmaceuticals in orbit and we’re immensely proud to make that possible with our Photon spacecraft,” said Rocket Lab founder and CEO, Peter Beck. “Space Systems is a rapidly growing part of Rocket Lab’s business, and we’re delighted to deliver another spacecraft that leverages our vertical integration strategy for high-quality and cost-effective satellite solutions on rapid timelines.”

“Rocket Lab has been an asset in developing and delivering this spacecraft on our schedule and budget,” said Varda Space Industries Chief Executive Officer, Will Bruey. “Our engineers at Varda and the Rocket Lab team have worked together seamlessly and are excited by the benefits this spacecraft will bring to Earth and healthcare.”

Rocket Lab’s Photon spacecraft is a configurable spacecraft bus platform that can support a range of missions – from low Earth orbit to interplanetary destinations. A high energy variant of Photon was developed and launched by Rocket Lab in 2022, successfully deploying the CAPSTONE spacecraft to lunar orbit for NASA.

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, the Photon satellite platform, and the Company is developing the large Neutron launch vehicle for constellation deployment. 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 161 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 pad in Virginia. 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. 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 press release, including risks related to the global COVID-19 pandemic; risks related to government restrictions and lock-downs in New Zealand and other countries in which we operate that could delay or suspend our operations; 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; 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; 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 (including that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic may also exacerbate the risks discussed therein). 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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