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Rocket Lab Prepares to Bring In-Space Manufacturing Capsule Back to Earth for Varda Space Industries

The FAA has granted a world-first reentry license for the mission, enabling Rocket Lab to conduct a targeted reentry of a spacecraft and capsule designed to manufacture high-value goods in space

Rocket Lab USA, Inc. (Nasdaq: RKLB) (“Rocket Lab” or “the Company”), a leading launch and space systems company, today announced that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has approved the reentry of Varda Space Industries’ (“Varda”) in-space manufacturing capsule, enabling Rocket Lab to commence a series of complex in-space maneuvers and de-orbit burns on the Rocket Lab-built and operated satellite currently hosting the capsule on orbit.

This is the first time the FAA has granted a Part 450 reentry license and also the first time the Department of Defense has worked with a commercial space company to allow reentry of this kind of mission on a government-owned range. Varda’s capsule is targeted for reentry and landing in the Utah Desert.

In the coming days, Rocket Lab will conduct a series of maneuvers to bring the capsule, named Winnebago-1, back to Earth.

  • Evening of February 18, PT: Initial burn of the Curie engine on Rocket Lab’s spacecraft to slow the spacecraft down, lower its perigee, and place Winnebago-1 in its first staging orbit. Target orbit: 300km x 500km.
  • Afternoon of February 20, PT: A second engine burn to raise the spacecraft’s apogee, the point at which the spacecraft passes farthest from Earth, and place Winnebago-1 in its second staging orbit. Target orbit: 300km x 900km.
  • Afternoon of February 21, PT: The spacecraft’s third and fourth final engine burns to de-orbit and set Winnebago-1 on its atmospheric reentry trajectory.

For more than eight months in space, Rocket Lab’s 300kg-class spacecraft has successfully provided power, communications, ground control, and attitude control to allow Varda’s capsule to grow Ritonavir crystals, a drug commonly used as an antiviral medication for HIV and hepatitis C.

Due to the initial planned reentry date being adjusted from late 2023, Rocket Lab’s spacecraft has been required to operate for more than double its intended orbital lifespan, which it has done without issue. The extended nominal performance of the spacecraft is testament to its robust design, flight-proven hardware and subsystems, and an experienced team of mission operators. The spacecraft incorporates Rocket Lab-designed and manufactured components and software including star trackers, propulsion system, reaction wheels, solar panels, flight software, radios, composite structures and tanks, and separation systems.

This mission is the first of four which will use identical Rocket Lab spacecraft to support Varda’s in-space manufacturing. The second spacecraft has completed assembly, integration, and testing at Rocket Lab’s spacecraft production facility in Long Beach, California, and is scheduled to launch in the coming months.

For live updates throughout the reentry process, follow Rocket Lab and Varda on X.

+ 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 176 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 contains forward-looking statements within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. We intend such forward-looking statements to be covered by the safe harbor provisions for forward looking statements contained in Section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933, as amended (the “Securities Act”) and Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended (the “Exchange Act”). All statements contained in this press release other than statements of historical fact, including, without limitation, statements regarding our launch and space systems operations, launch schedule and window, safe and repeatable access to space, Neutron development, operational expansion and business strategy are forward-looking statements. The words “believe,” “may,” “will,” “estimate,” “potential,” “continue,” “anticipate,” “intend,” “expect,” “strategy,” “future,” “could,” “would,” “project,” “plan,” “target,” and similar expressions are intended to identify forward-looking statements, though not all forward-looking statements use these words or expressions. These statements are neither promises nor guarantees, but involve known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other important factors that may cause our actual results, performance or achievements to be materially different from any future results, performance or achievements expressed or implied by the forward-looking statements, including but not limited to the factors, risks and uncertainties included in our Annual Report on Form 10-K for the fiscal year ended December 31, 2022, as such factors may be updated from time to time in our other filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”), accessible on the SEC’s website at and the Investor Relations section of our website at, which could cause our actual results to differ materially from those indicated by the forward-looking statements made in this press release. Any such forward-looking statements represent management’s estimates as of the date of this press release. While we may elect to update such forward-looking statements at some point in the future, we disclaim any obligation to do so, even if subsequent events cause our views to change.


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