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β›½ "Gas stations" to extend satellite lifespans

β›½ "Gas stations" to extend satellite lifespans

OrbitFab is a startup that extends the lifespan of satellites by creating gas stations in space.

Jakob Holgersson
Jakob Holgersson

With advancing technologies and a growing understanding of the potential utilities of said technologies, space is becoming ever more important. Growing numbers of advanced and valuable satellites are being launched, and while this is a reason for excitement, there are issues.

Satellites are in many ways restricted by their onboard fuel supply. The result is that maneuvers are performed sparingly to extend lifespan. Even then, many satellites have to be decommissioned earlier than necessary, at times resulting in dangerous space debris.

OrbitFab claims they have a solution: "Gas Stations in Space." The startup intends to provide a ubiquitous standard for refueling, applicable for all manner of orbiting satellites, ranging from today's communication and surveillance satellites to future utilities, including space tourism and mining. To achieve this, they've developed the Rapidly Attachable Fluid Transfer Interface or RAFTI for short.

The RAFTI Service Valve. Image: OrbitFab

The system consists of a Service Valve (RSV) and three alignment markers. The valve can transfer one liter of propellant per minute at temperatures ranging from -40 to 120 degrees Celsius. Supported propellants include nitrogen, helium, water, and H2.

All the client craft needs to do is to point towards the depot satellite and share state information. The OrbitFab Tanker handles the soft capture and hard latch of the two crafts.

While a startup, the company is already at an advanced stage. Their equipment has been tested onboard the International Space Station, and they have received investments from major players such as Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin. Better yet, on June 30 this year, the Tanker-001 'Tenzing' was launched onboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 and became the world's first operational fuel depot in space.

Image: OrbitFab