WASHINGTON — Two startups are partnering on expertise that they hope can jump-start the marketplace for in-space refueling of satellites.
Orbit Fab and Benchmark House Techniques introduced Feb. 23 that they’re teaming as much as present the aptitude to refuel Benchmark’s thrusters with hydrogen peroxide propellant offered by an Orbit Fab tanker in low Earth orbit.
That tanker spacecraft, known as Tanker-001 Tenzing, will launch on a SpaceX rideshare mission later this 12 months brokered by Spaceflight. Benchmark will take a look at fueling that tanker on the bottom earlier than launch utilizing an interface known as RAFTI developed by Orbit Fab. That very same interface will likely be bundled with Benchmark’s thrusters for purchasers searching for in-space refueling of their spacecraft.
“This was an apparent step. We wished to make our fueling port availing to increasingly more prospects,” Daniel Faber, chief government of Orbit Fab, stated in an interview. “It made sense to bundle these as a product providing to make it easier for satellite tv for pc integrators and satellite tv for pc operators.”
Benchmark doesn’t have any of its thrusters in orbit however has a number of prospects, together with Spaceflight, which can use them on its Sherpa tug. Chris Carella, vice chairman of enterprise improvement and technique at Benchmark, stated the corporate expects to have a half-dozen of its propulsion methods in orbit by the tip of the 12 months.
“All of our prospects are potential Orbit Fab prospects,” Carella stated in an interview, however famous none had but signed up for refueling. Amongst potential early customers are Spaceflight for its Sherpa tug, in addition to unspecified Protection Division prospects who need the aptitude to “maneuver with out remorse” by with the ability to refuel after performing maneuvers, thus extending the lifetime of the spacecraft.
One other instance he cited was a startup planning to supply on-orbit inspection providers. That firm is searching for “mobility as a service” in order that, moderately guessing how a lot gasoline its inspector might want to perform its mission, Benchmark can present refueling providers via Orbit Fab’s tanker. Benchmark is contemplating demonstrations of rendezvous and proximity operations as a part of the partnership to “show out different items of the tanking operation.”
That tanker will carry a model of hydrogen peroxide known as high-test peroxide (HTP), a gasoline Benchmark chosen as a result of it avoids the dealing with challenges related to a poisonous propellant like hydrazine, however in contrast to different unhazardous propellants doesn’t want “unique supplies” for its catalysts, Carella stated. “We’re capable of keep away from plenty of prices through the use of hydrogen peroxide.”
HTP shouldn’t be a brand new propellant, however he stated trendy kinds of the propellant are cleaner and carry out higher, making it extra appropriate for spacecraft purposes. “It’s based mostly on latest expertise with new supplies and manufacturing processes, paired with trendy HTP synthesis,” he stated.
The businesses hope the settlement will deal with the “rooster and egg” drawback for in-space refueling of satellites: no satellites are designed to be refueled as a result of there aren’t any refueling providers out there, and no refueling providers can be found as a result of no satellites are designed to be refueled.
“We have now attacked that fairly instantly,” Faber stated. “That’s what our prospects have to see to believe: not simply the primary tanker however an end-to-end full-scale trial, an indication of this functionality in varied circumstances.”
“As soon as we’re via this, the trade will likely be completely different,” he argued, permitting firms to shift bills from constructing new spacecraft to working current ones. “This stuff are going to be quite common in a short while.”