WASHINGTON — Sierra Space and Redwire are partnering on a biotech experiment platform that will be installed on a Sierra Space commercial space station module in what the companies call a first-of-its-kind arrangement.
The two companies announced Aug. 21 that Redwire will provide a set of equipment that will be installed on a Sierra Space inflatable module known as Large Integrated Flexible Environment (LIFE). That “pathfinder” module will be launched later this decade for commercial pharmaceutical and other biotech research.
“The most significant industrial revolution is underway in space, as we build the first microgravity factories that will benefit humanity with breakthrough innovations and solutions to our toughest problems here on Earth,” Tom Vice, chief executive of Sierra Space, said in a statement. “In Redwire, we have a partner that has a proven history of innovation across in-space manufacturing and biotech facilities.”
In an interview, Mike Gold, chief growth officer of Redwire, called the agreement the first of its kind. “For the first time, a private sector company has contracted with another private sector company for substantive microgravity research and development hardware for pharmaceutical development.”
The hardware includes equipment that Redwire has previously developed for the International Space Station, such as the Advanced Space Experiment Processor, which hosts biotech experiments. A particular focus will be on crystallization experiments, using the microgravity environment to grow larger crystals that can then be studied to determine their structure for pharmaceutical applications.
The companies did not disclose terms of the contract other than that Redwire will start delivering hardware in the fourth quarter of this year. Gold said that the companies will also partner on business development to identify customers for using the experiment platform.
He said that Redwire has been in “constant communications” with pharmaceutical companies about use of those facilities. “We are taking their feedback in terms of what are the tough problems that they need to solve,” he said. “We are directly aligning ourselves with the needs from the pharmaceuticals.”
That is a different approach, he added, from past efforts to attract biotech companies to research on the ISS or other platforms. “For far too long, we had the capability and then tried to sell it to the private sector. Now, we’re beginning with what do the pharmaceutical companies need, what do they want, and then we are focusing our research and development accordingly.”
The companies did not state when the module carrying the experiment platform would launch. At an investor conference in June, Vice said that Sierra Space was planning a launch of a standalone LIFE module as a “pathfinder” for future commercial space stations as soon as the end of 2026. That would be used, he said, for commercial pharmaceutical and other biotech research.
“There have been a number of breakthroughs in the biotech world utilizing the ISS that show we can do some very unique things,” he said then, noting that a pathfinder module would serve as “a revenue-generating space station that is focused around next-generation breakthroughs.”
The pathfinder would also serve as risk reduction for Orbital Reef, a commercial space station being led by Sierra Space and Blue Origin. Redwire and Boeing are also involved in that effort, which is supported by one of NASA’s Commercial Low Earth Orbit Destination awards.
Gold said he believed that microgravity biotech research could help counter the “billionaire playboy narrative” that has dominated coverage of the commercial space industry. “I hope that this agreement is an inflection point that will bring attention to what we are going to be able to do for humanity to benefit and improve life on Earth.”