Refueling Satellites in Space
Lockheed Martin Adds to On-Orbit Capabilities with New Venture
Lockheed Martin is adding another tool to its innovative workbox of pioneering on-orbit satellite servicing capabilities with an investment in Orbit Fab’s Gas Stations in Space™ refueling technology.
Orbit Fab, a San Francisco-based space-industry startup, has developed end-to-end refueling service using its Rapidly Attachable Fluid Transfer Interface (RAFTI). RAFTI, Orbit Fab’s first product, is a fueling port to allow satellites to be refueled easily in orbit. It can also be used as a drop-in replacement for existing satellite fill-and-drain valves.
Accessing fuel in-orbit will allow satellite operators to defer capital costs, increase asset utilization and lifetime, and create the opportunity for new, flexible business models.
Orbit Fab's RAFTI (Rapidly Attachable Fuel Transfer Interface) Service Valve that enables satellite to be refuel on-orbit.
Lockheed Martin Ventures, along with other investors, provided investment dollars for Orbit Fab’s refueling technology. “This investment in Orbit Fab is one of several we have made that have created and supported innovative technologies and capabilities for on-orbit flexibility,” said Paul Pelley, ASPIN program director at Lockheed Martin Space . “The ability to refuel a satellite on orbit is a critical component for our customers’ missions because it allows them greater maneuverability and can extend the life of a mission with replenished fuel.”
The RAFTI fueling port has flight heritage, having flown on the company’s Tanker-001 Tenzing in June this year. The tanker is an on-orbit fuel depot. Orbit Fab’s architecture includes a system of tankers and fuel tenders in low Earth orbit, geostationary orbit and cis-lunar space.
“Lockheed Martin sees clear value in on-orbit refueling to create a bustling in-space economy,” said Orbit Fab co-founder Jeremy Schiel. “Their support will help drive adoption and interface standards for the satellite servicing industry.”
With the investment in Orbit Fab’s satellite refueling technology, Lockheed Martin continues to lead in developing new, disruptive capabilities for on-orbit satellite servicing designed to extend mission longevity, value and flexibility.
Orbit Fab's Refueling Network Concept.
Earlier this month, the company announced that the Lockheed Martin In-space Upgrade Satellite System (LINUSS) completed environmental testing and is ready for launch later this year. LINUSS is designed to demonstrate how small CubeSats can regularly upgrade satellite constellations to add timely new capabilities and extend spacecraft design lives.
LINUSS’ pair of LM 50™ 12U CubeSats -- each about the size of a four-slice toaster will be two of the most capable CubeSats in Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO). LINUSS will showcase several capabilities, including miniaturized Space Domain Awareness and SmartSat™ (transformational on-orbit software upgrade architecture) technologies by Lockheed Martin.
LINUSS will be able to work in tandem with another of Lockheed Martin’s on-orbit innovations, the Augmentation System Port Interface (ASPIN). ASPIN is a docking adapter that Lockheed Martin will include in its baseline LM 2100 combat satellite bus as a novel way to add new mission capabilities after launch. It allows satellite operators to unlock a new range of upgrade options, including processors, storage and sensors and to replace or retrofit components after launch. Its design was not only focused on power and data, but with plenty of open space to support future refueling interfaces, of which Orbit Fab’s RAFTI could be one.
Together with software-defined platforms like SmartSat™, Lockheed Martin’s approach will enable the kind of mission flexibility and network resiliency demanded by the U.S. military for Joint All-Domain Operations (JADO). The addition of ASPIN is planned to GPS IIIF Space Vehicle 13 as part of Lockheed Martin’s LM 2100 Combat Bus.