Orbit Fab has signed an agreement with Spaceflight Inc. to launch the company’s first operational fuel depot to orbit. Tanker 001 Tenzing, which will provide fuel for the fast growing in-orbit servicing industry, is expected to launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 no earlier than in June 2021.
Once launched, Tanker 001 Tenzing will store propellant in sun synchronous orbit, where it will be available to satellite servicing vehicles or other spacecraft that need to replenish fuel supplies. The tanker is one of several payloads to launch on a Spaceflight Sherpa orbital transfer vehicle, which is capable of executing multiple deployments. Spaceflight’s first OTV, Sherpa-FX, is scheduled to debut no earlier than December 2020 on a SpaceX rideshare mission and provides independent and detailed deployment telemetry, and flexible interfaces, all at a low cost.
Orbit Fab’s fuel depots are designed to support more sustainable spacecraft through the use of the Rapidly Attachable Fluid Transfer Interface (RAFTI), which has been adopted by multiple spacecraft manufacturers to extend the life of their satellites. RAFTI, which is also known as a “Satellite Gas Cap,” was developed in cooperation with 30 companies and organizations and it is expected to become the industry’s common refueling interface.
In today’s contested space domain RAFTI provides reliable propellant transfer both on the ground and in orbit with a self-driving satellite kit for docking and attachment of two spacecraft without the need for complex robotic arms.
Earlier this year Orbit Fab received a $3 million contract from the U.S. Air Force to fully flight qualify the RAFTI service valve, and it received a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to test its docking system. Previously, Orbit Fab successfully demonstrated its propellant storage and delivery systems in an unprecedented private transfer of water to the International Space Station.
“For capital intensive emerging markets, the way to identify value is by the velocity of new entrants,” said Daniel Faber, Orbit Fab CEO. “In-orbit servicing companies are rapidly proliferating with a five-fold increase since we founded Orbit Fab in 2018. Our gas stations in space are an essential resource to fuel this industry and support the infrastructure in space that enables projected commerce, exploration and national security.”
“Orbit Fab’s RAFTI supports the Air Force and Space Force need for space combat logistics capabilities (On-Orbit Servicing), which enables space domain awareness,” said Jeremy Schiel, CDO of Orbit Fab. “Refueling is a requirement in the emerging Space Force architecture and for good reason. You don’t want to run out of fuel in the middle of a confrontation.”