Orbit Fab to Launch Orbital Fuel Depot Next Year

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Orbit Fab plans to launch its first operational fuel depot into orbit aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket no earlier than June 2021.

Orbit Fab’s Tanker 001 Tenzing will store propellant for satellite serving spacecraft and other vehicles that need refueling. The spacecraft will be placed in a sun synchronous orbit by one of Spaceflight Inc.’s Sherpa orbital transfer vehicles.

The spacecraft will use Orbit Fab’s Rapidly Attachable Fluid Transfer Interface (RAFTI) to perform the fuel transfers.

“RAFTI is designed to allow reliable propellant transfers in the harshest space environments, making it ideal for mission operations at any orbit,” according to an Orbit Fab fact sheet. “High and low pressure variants are compatible with common modern propellants and pressurants with external leakages less than 1×10-6 scc/s. RAFTI is configurable to be normally-open or normally-closed in case of power loss, allowing for fail-safe and safe-fail operations for any mission profile.”

“Rapidly Attachable Fluid Transfer Interface (RAFTI) has been adopted by multiple spacecraft manufacturers and is quickly becoming the industry’s common refueling interface,” the company said in a statement. “It was developed in cooperation with 30 companies and organizations, and is intended to be a drop-in replacement for existing satellite fill and drain valves as it is equivalent in size, mass and cost.”

Earlier this year, the U.S. Air Force awarded Orbit Fab a $3 million contract to develop an in-space xenon pumping system, which is a key technology for refueling satellites in orbit.

“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 Orbit Fab Chief Development Officer Jeremy Schiel. “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.”

The National Science Foundation’s (NSF) America’s Seed Fund also awarded a $222,713 grant to Orbit Fab earlier to help develop the docking system earlier this year.

In 2019, Orbit Fab became the first private company to deliver water to the International Space Station.