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Stunning footage shows space capsule hurtling toward Earth

Stunning footage from Varda Space Industries shows the forces of Earth’s atmosphere acting upon its W-1 capsule as it descended toward terra firma recently.

Varda Capsule Reentry - Five Minutes from LEO to Earth

Just as incredible is the audio, which features the sound of the spacecraft ripping through the atmosphere at speeds of greater than Mach 25 (nearly 20,000 mph). Several commenters described the clip as “one of the coolest space videos” they’d ever seen.

The footage shows W-1 hurtling toward Earth with a special heat shield protecting the spacecraft from burning up in the extreme conditions. A longer video shared by Varda shows more of the W-1 mission before the spacecraft begins its rapid descent, including its smooth separation from Rocket Lab’s satellite bus.

The uncrewed W-1 capsule landed at the Utah Test and Training Range on February 21, with Varda releasing the video just a few days ago.

Varda’s capsule brought with it crystals of an antiviral drug that were cultivated in space in part of efforts that Varda hopes will help it to become a leader in off-Earth manufacturing, which it says offers particular benefits.

“Processing materials in microgravity, or the near-weightless conditions found in space, offers a unique environment not available through terrestrial processing,” the California-based company explains on its website. “These benefits primarily stem from the lack of convection and sedimentation forces, as well as the ability to form more perfect structures due to the absence of gravitational stresses.” Varda’s crystals will now be carefully examined by a pharmaceutical firm.

Varda’s capsule is 35 inches (about 90 centimeters) across and was part of a Rocket Lab Photon spacecraft launched on a SpaceX rideshare mission last June. Varda wanted to bring it home last summer but had trouble obtaining the necessary permissions from the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Air Force. It eventually received a reentry license on February 14 and was cleared for landing the following week.

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Trevor Mogg
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