With the fast advancement of space tourism on the one hand, and satellite technology on the other, space businesses are booming and a new “space economy” keeps expanding. Among these sectors, space logistics is now taking a new turn, with the world’s first in-orbit gas stations.
Just as it is here, on Earth, vehicles and devices in space require refueling in order to keep functioning. Having refueling systems at hand would not only help increase the lifetime and utilization of such devices, but it would also cut costs for the operators. In short, it would boost in-space economy. This is the premise for Orbit Fab’s vision.
The venture-backed startup has already achieved significant success: in 2019, it became the first private company to resupply the ISS with water, and earlier this year it launched the world’s first on-orbit fuel depot, called Tenzing. Now, it made another important step in its development, by securing a $10 million investment, which brings it to a total funding of $17 million.
What’s equally important is that the latest investors are two major names in the aerospace and defense industry, Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin. Northrop Grumman achieved the historic first docking of a Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV-1) for life extension services, in early 2020, while Lockheed Martin has a history of investing in servicing technologies.
What Orbit Fab is bringing to the table is a system of tankers and fuel shuttles designed to operate in low Earth orbit (LEO), geostationary orbit (GEO) and cis-lunar space. The company’s first product is the Rapidly Attachable Fluid Transfer Interface (RAFTI), a fueling port for the easy refueling of satellites, which can replace the existing satellite fill-and-drain valves. Back in June, the RAFTI had its first flight on the Tanker-001 Tenzing.
The major benefit of these innovative in-space “gas stations” is enabling satellites to get the required fuel when they need it and where they need it, so that they will no longer be limited to the fuel they were launched with. This, in turn, will open new possibilities for space economy.