TITUSVILLE, Fla.— After months of effort and one rejected application, Varda Space Industries said Feb. 14 it has received a license from the Federal Aviation Administration to return a capsule from its first mission.

The FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation issued a reentry license for Varda’s W-Series 1 spacecraft. The license will allow the company to land a capsule from that spacecraft at the Utah Test and Training Range (UTTR) and neighboring Dugway Proving Ground west of Salt Lake City. Varda said that reentry is scheduled for Feb. 21.

“We’ve been working closely with our government partners and our satellite partner, Rocket Lab, to ensure a safe and compliant return from space,” Varda said in a statement. “Today we’re excited to announce the FAA has approved a re-entry attempt for Feb 21st.”

Varda launched W-Series 1, its first spacecraft, in June on the SpaceX Transporter-8 rideshare mission. The company performed experiments to test the production of crystals in microgravity, which would be returned to Earth in a capsule developed by Varda attached to the Rocket Lab-produced spacecraft.

The company had hoped to return the capsule as early as mid-July, but said then was still working with the FAA to obtain a reentry license, required for any commercial spacecraft returning to Earth. One issue the company said it was facing was that it was the first company seeking a reentry license under new regulations called Part 450 intended to streamline the licensing process, but which some companies reported difficulties adjusting to.

In October, the company said it had come close in early September to getting an FAA reentry license as well as securing approval from the U.S. Air Force, which operates UTTR. “It was ultimately a coordination problem amongst three different groups that had not worked through this operation before,” Delian Asparouhov, co-founder of Varda, said in an interview at the time.

“This is the first time in our nation’s history that the FAA has granted a Part 450 reentry license, and licensed a commercial entity to land a spacecraft on U.S. soil,” Varda said in its statement about the license. “We are incredibly proud to have this opportunity with our government partners, and appreciate their dedication to safe innovation in the United States.”

The conical capsule, about 90 centimeters across and 74 centimeters high, weighs less than 90 kilograms, as described in a section of an environmental assessment about the reentry. The capsule landing area is an ellipse 45 by 35 kilometers covering parts of UTTR and the neighboring Dugway Proving Ground. The main spacecraft would also reenter and burn up, with only small pieces surviving reentry.

According to the environmental assessment, several ranges run by the Department of Defense in Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon and Utah were considered as potential landing sites for the capsule, as they offered controlled access not available elsewhere, such as public lands maintained by the Bureau of Land Management. Only the UTTR/Dugway met all the requirements to safely return the capsule.

The assessment noted that non-U.S. locations were ruled out from consideration for this mission because of the “time, uncertainty, and complexity associated with obtaining the necessary agreements” between the U.S. and the foreign government for the landing, as well as challenging shipping the capsule back to the United States.

However, Varda announced in October an agreement with Southern Launch, a spaceport operator based in Adelaide, Australia, to host capsule returns at the Koonibba Test Range northwest of Adelaide. That range could be used for Varda’s second mission, scheduled for as soon as mid-2024.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...