Orbit Fab Selected by U.S. Air Force to Develop In-space Xenon Pumping System, Key for On-orbit Satellite Servicing Ecosystem

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Orbit Fab, a company known for its gas stations in space, has been selected by the U.S. Air Force to pursue an in-space xenon pumping system, which is a key technology for servicing satellites and spacecraft on orbit.

“Our RAFTI satellite fueling port is designed to handle supercritical fluids, along with low-pressure liquids and high-pressure gasses," said Daniel Faber, CEO. We are already seeing RAFTI being adopted as the common interface across the industry.”

Orbit Fab builds and operates gas stations in space and has proven its in-space fluid transfer system as the first private company to resupply the International Space Station with water. Its Rapidly Attachable Fluid Transfer Interface (RAFTI) has been adopted by multiple spacecraft manufacturers and is quickly becoming the industry’s common refueling interface. 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.

“Our in-orbit fuel tankers will deliver a range of propellants for both chemical and electric systems,” said Daniel Faber, CEO of Orbit Fab. “We share the Air Force’s goal of developing essential infrastructure for the satellite servicing industry in support of both next-generation space commerce and U.S. leadership in the space domain.”

The RAFTI satellite fueling port is a robust solution designed for transferring various fluids in the harsh environment of space, but xenon, which is used extensively in commercial satellites with electric propulsion, poses unique challenges. Xenon is a supercritical fluid, which means that it is used at a temperature and pressure where it has the properties of both a liquid and a gas. RAFTI is designed to handle supercritical fluids, along with low-pressure liquids, and high-pressure gasses and the Air Force contract will advance the development of the company’s xenon pumping system. Mr. Faber shared “We are seeing RAFTI being adopted as a common refueling interface for numerous propellants and we’re encountering growing demand for Xenon.”

“Orbit Fab is making fuel supply ubiquitous in Earth orbit, getting satellites the right fuel in the right location when they need it,” said Faber. “Xenon handling systems are not easy, as you’re trying to pump a supercritical fluid. Our Air Force customers have identified this as a key technology for satellite servicing and are backing Orbit Fab to deliver the solution.”

Satellite servicing is expected to become mainstream within a few years, given the significant benefits of more flexible satellite fleet management and the recent success of Northrop Grumman Space Logistics’ first commercial service. Orbit Fab is initially looking to improve the efficiency of current operations, in preparation for an expanding market in the coming decade. In an independent report by Northern Sky Research, the emerging satellite servicing market is forecast to be valued at more than $4.5 billion in the next eight years. Satellite life extension, deorbiting and relocation are all fuel-dependent activities that Northern Sky Research expects to comprise 85 percent of that market.

About Orbit Fab:
Orbit Fab is a venture-backed startup founded in 2018. It envisions a thriving in-space market for products and services that support both existing space businesses like communications and Earth observation and new industries such as space tourism, manufacturing, and mining. The first step is achieving ubiquitous availability of satellite propellant in Earth Orbit, expanding the operational potential of new and existing space assets and providing unprecedented business model flexibility for satellite owners. In the future, valuable satellites will no longer be thrown away when they run out of fuel. Orbit Fab’s goal is to build the infrastructure that provides fuel and other materials to customers when and where they need it, to enable business models never before thought possible.

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Grant Kendall-Bell
Orbit Fab
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