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Watch video from Varda’s return capsule as its comes back to Earth

I have embedded below video taken from inside the capsule of the commercial startup Varda from its release from the Rocket Lab service module throughout its descent back to Earth.

The capsule had been launched in June 2023, carrying equipment to manufacture HIV drugs in space and then return them to Earth for sale. Even though the company had begun negotiations with the FAA and the Air Force two years prior for landing that capsule in the Air Force’s test range in Utah, those agencies blocked its planned return in the September of 2023, and was only able to do it last month. This mission is demo flight, with three others now scheduled.

For the video, Varda included a window looking up outside the capsule, and a camera to film everything that occurred outside that window during descent, release of parachutes, and impact on the ground. It is quite fascinating, as you can see that the capsule initially tumbles, then as the atmosphere thickens its aerodynamic shape causes it to stablize with its heat shield at its bottom.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

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  • Andi

    Too bad they couldn’t post telemetry alongside. Would love to have seen altitude, speed, and G-forces

  • Jason Lewis

    Very cool! Did you see the “Photon flyby” starting around 8:30? It was apparently the part of the craft that separated at the beginning of the video. Here’s an image of the whole spacecraft:

  • Ray Van Dune

    “Too bad they couldn’t post telemetry alongside.”

    Varda would have had to have pre-calculated altitude and speed over time, and from those you could derive G’s, presumably to keep heating and stress within some constraints.

    So even if all that wasn’t telemetered in real time, it could be recreated. Accurately? Well, it hit the target!

  • Jerry Greenwood


  • wayne

    Do we know how much of the drug was on board?
    Only been keeping up intermittently.
    Apparently, the drug is subject to “polymorphism” when it’s crystalized on Earth, it can settle into two distinct crystalline states, which have differing bioavailability.
    And, it’s the difference between having to prepare it for use as a sterile liquid injection vs. taking a pressed tablet.
    (as far as I can tell, the government is the largest purchaser of this drug)

  • Sub-zero.

    Now we know what all those sci-fi folks experience on the way from orbit to surface. The Shuttle re-entry videos I’ve seen are through the windshield; this is more of a passenger view. Easy to imagine the relief at getting through the frictional part of re-entry; like breaking through the clouds and seeing the airport. Made it.

  • Jeff Wright

    Now what of the spacecraft bus…maybe have it get ultra-low pictures of the ocean as it burns up in turn.

  • Edward

    Jason Lewis,
    You asked: “Very cool! Did you see the ‘Photon flyby’ starting around 8:30?
    Yes! That was fabulous. It gives us an idea of the separation speed, as they travelled that far from each other in eight minutes, but it also shows us that the Photon separated on the Earth side, that it was lower than the reentry capsule.

    I’ll bet that there is someone at Rocket Lab who said, “We thought we wouldn’t see that Photon ever again.” I said that to a friend of mine who had worked on Intelsat 901 when MEV 1 took photographs of it ( ).

    Thank you for the link. It helps to remind us that Rocket Lab provides services to its customers that are new to space operations so that they don’t have to have their own experts in the areas that Rocket Lab can cover.

    Something else I noticed was that the edge beyond the window was browned during reentry, like the meringue on a lemon meringue pie. Rats. Now I’m craving pie, and it is a week until pi day.

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