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First space factory is already testing how to make drugs in space

Published Jun 26th, 2023 4:40PM EDT
axiom space station, iss replacement
Image: Axiom Space

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Earlier this month, SpaceX launched the first space factory into orbit aboard a Falcon 9 rocket. Now, that factory is already working towards creating drugs in a zero-gravity environment. The allure of making drugs and even other things in zero gravity isn’t new, and since 2019, scientists aboard the International Space Station have been working to find more stable ways to make some drugs.

One of the most important experiments allowed scientists on the ISS to recreate the cancer drug Keytruda in a more stable way. This allowed them to administer the drug through a shot instead of an IV infusion. That’s because the particles used to make the drug behaved differently in the lower gravity.

Now, Elon Musk and others hope to recapture that process in the very first space factory that we’ve put into orbit. The factory is owned and operated by Varda Space Industries, according to reports by Big Think. And once it has been properly tested and everything, it’ll begin working on heating and cooling the drug ritonavir to see how its particles crystallize in space.

After a month in space, Varda plans to bring that first factory back down to Earth, where it’ll safely land at the Department of Defense’s Utah Test and Training Range, providing valuable insight into the future of making things in space. From here, Varda and other companies hope to put other space factories into orbit to work towards creating other drugs in space, as well as different items like fiber optic cable.

The goal is to utilize the first space factories to see how we can maximize the stability and production of different things by removing the force of gravity from the situation. Of course, we’ll still need to see how those items react when they are transported back down to Earth, but if we can find more stable ways to create some of the most needed drugs, that’s a huge win for medical research all around.

Space has also proven effective at growing other things too, like when the ISS grew spicy food to see how it would handle low-gravity environments. It’s unclear if these space factories will look more like the stations we expect to see from Axiom Space and others (which is pictured in the header), or if they will be smaller, like satellites.

Josh Hawkins has been writing for over a decade, covering science, gaming, and tech culture. He also is a top-rated product reviewer with experience in extensively researched product comparisons, headphones, and gaming devices.

Whenever he isn’t busy writing about tech or gadgets, he can usually be found enjoying a new world in a video game, or tinkering with something on his computer.