In a new partnership that should break new ground for sustainable orbital operations, "gas stations in space" startup Orbit Fab has teamed with Astroscale to provide on-orbit refueling services to the latter company's LEXI (life extension in-orbit) geostationary servicing spacecraft.
Both Astroscale and Orbit Fab's core offerings are designed to provided ways for satellites to extend their useful life. Orbit Fab has designed technology that aims to make it easy for satellites to get fueled up while in space, with a custom interface that makes it possible for other spacecraft to latch on and transfer fuel easily while on orbit. Astroscale is using its LEXI satellite to mission extension provide to existing spacecraft located in geostationary orbit (GEO), by attaching to them and correcting their course, or relocating them to a new target inclination.
Astroscale is touting LEXI as "the first satellite designed to be refueled," which makes it a perfect target customer for Orbit Fab's refueling interface (the Rapidly Attachable Fluid Transfer Interface or RAFTI for short) and roving orbital tanker. If all goes to plan, the first Astroscale LEXI will be active in space by 2026, and Orbit Fab is contracted to provide the LEXI fleet with up to 1,000 kg of Xenon propellant for top ups.
Orbit Fab says it plans to have "dozens" of fuel tankers and shuttles in space over the next five to 10 years, with spacecraft placed strategically in low Earth orbit (LEO), GEO and also in cislunar space, which should become a more active destination as NASA ramps its Artemis program. The first Orbit Fab fueling spacecraft should be in LEO by 2023 if all goes to plan.