The U.S. Air Force has denied permission to re-enter and land on a floating pharmaceutical factory that appears to have been orbiting Earth to produce zero-gravity medicine since June.
It was first reported tech crunchA space drug production capsule owned and operated by Varda Space Industries is conducting experiments to produce certain types of HIV drugs in a low-gravity environment. Varda announced on June 30 that it had successfully synthesized a vial of crystalline ritonavir, an HIV treatment drug.
“Recently, for the first time in history, in-orbit drug processing took place outside of a government-run space station,” Varda said in a post on his X account. “It appears that our ritonavir crystallization was nominal.”
The capsule was originally scheduled to return to Earth on July 17 to fortify newly synthesized crystals of the HIV treatment drug ritonavir, but that plan ended with them dancing around the post somewhat. For this reason, it was postponed until early September. X account.
“The original re-entry date of July 17 has been postponed due to work.” [with] Our government is working together to ensure that everyone is fully prepared,” Varda said in July. “Pharmacrystal on board is ready to go home!”
Varda was subsequently denied permission to land at an Air Force training range in Utah for reasons the company did not disclose, but an Air Force spokesperson provided TechCrunch with the following statement regarding the incident:
“September 5th and 7th were their primary targets.Due to a comprehensive safety, risk and impact analysis, the request to use the Utah test and training range as a landing site will not be granted at this time. In a separate proceeding, the FAA has not granted re-entry clearance. All organizations will continue to explore recovery options.”
Varda also chose not to comment on why the September reentry date was rejected, saying in a short update that the capsule has enough resources to remain in space even longer if necessary. I just posted it to the X account.
“As a quick update, we are pleased to report that our spacecraft is healthy in all star systems. It was originally designed to remain in orbit for a full year if necessary. ” Varda said. “We look forward to continuing to work together.” [with] Our government partners will work to return our capsule to Earth as soon as possible. ”
Varda filed for reconsideration of the FAA’s decision on September 8, but the FAA only issued a brief statement to TechCrunch on the matter: The request for reconsideration is pending. ”
Ritonavir is not a new drug. It was first synthesized in 1989 and can be made on Earth. The novel part of what Varda is doing seems to be the way he carries out the crystallization process.
“Screening polymorphs, salts, and cocrystals in microgravity can lead to the discovery of new morphologies,” says an excerpt from Varda’s website. “The reduction in crystal growth rate results in the formation of high-quality single crystals that can be used for X-ray structure determination.”
The advantages of producing drugs in low gravity compared to producing drugs on Earth are a little beyond my simple journalistic abilities, but Varda explains the process. Website:
“Processing materials in microgravity, the near zero-gravity conditions found in space, provides a unique environment not available in terrestrial processing. These advantages arise primarily from the lack of convection and sedimentation. These effects are “trapped” in the material, usually through crystallization of the material, before being brought back to Earth. ”
The Air Force said it would continue to work with Varda and the FAA to bring the capsule safely back to Earth, but could not provide a projected date for reentry.
“Our goal at the Utah Test and Training Range is to continue to work with customers who require reentry missions in a safe, secure, and sustainable manner, and on this basis we build on Varda (and potentially future partners) ) can model investments, engagement, and activities,” the Air Force said. a spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We also emphasize that this is a whole-of-government and interagency process to set the right precedent for future activities like this.”
While I personally may not need ritonavir, I sincerely hope that humanity as a whole can pool its scientific knowledge to bring these space drugs safely back to Earth. Doing so would be a small step for humans, but it would be a giant leap towards trying “Martian LSD” or whatever it is in the near future. Just let me dream.