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OrbitFab secures National Science Foundation funding to propel its satellite refueling tech to space

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OrbitFab secures National Science Foundation funding to propel its satellite refueling tech to space

On-orbit satellite tv for pc refueling expertise is nearer than ever to a sensible actuality, which might assist immensely with the price and sustainability of orbital companies. Startup OrbitFab, a 2019 TechCrunch Battlefield finalist, is without doubt one of the corporations working to make orbital refueling a actuality, and it simply secured a brand new contract from the National Science Foundation’s early stage deep tech R&D initiative America’s Seed Fund to additional its targets.

The contract is particularly for improvement of an answer that gives rendezvous and docking capabilities in house, managing the end-to-end technique of connecting two spacecraft and transferring gasoline from one to the opposite. OrbitFab unveiled its connector {hardware} for making this potential final October at Disrupt, which it now refers to as its Rapidly attachable Fluid Transfer Interface (RAFTI). The RAFTI is designed as a alternative for current valves utilized in satellites for fueling and draining propellant from spacecraft, however would search to determine a brand new commonplace that gives straightforward interoperability each with floor fueling, and with in-space refueling (or gasoline switch from one satellite tv for pc to a different, relying on what’s wanted).

Already, OrbitFab has managed to fly twice to the International Space Station (ISS), and final 12 months it turned the primary ever personal firm to provide the orbital lab with water. It’s not resting on its laurels, and this new contract will assist it put together a expertise demonstration of the docking course of it’s RAFTI facilitates in its personal take a look at services this summer time.

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Longer-term, that is simply part one in every of a multi-par funding settlement with the NSF. Phase one contains $250,000 to make that first demo, after which finally that may result in an inaugural trial of a gasoline sale operation in house, which OrbitFab CMO Jeremy Schiel says ought to occur “inside two years.”

“This will contain 2 satellites, our tanker, and a buyer satellite tv for pc, in a low LEO [low Earth orbit] docking, exchanging gasoline, and decoupling, and repeating this course of as many instances as we will to reveal {our capability},” he wrote through e mail.

There have been plenty of technical initiatives and demonstrations round orbital refueling, and a few of the largest corporations within the trade are engaged on the problem. But OrbitFab’s strategy is aiming for simplicity, and ease of execution, together with a typical commonplace that may be leveraged throughout a variety of satellites giant and small, from a spread of corporations. Already, OrbitFab says it’s working with a bunch of 30 totally different campaigns and organizations on making RAFTI a broadly adopted interface.

If profitable, OrbitFab might underpin a future orbital business working setting by which gasoline isn’t almost as a lot a priority relating to launch prices, with on-orbit roving fuel stations addressing demand for spacecraft as soon as they attain house, and paying a worth for propellant that’s defrayed by frequent, bulk shipments as an alternative of damaged up piecemeal.

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