The SpaceFund Rising Star project is designed to highlight those companies who we believe have the best shot at transforming the “space” of space. The Rising Stars we feature will include teams developing new technologies and creating new markets as they work to open the frontier. We do not attest nor imply our endorsement of them or their products, nor are any of our statements meant to suggest or advise investments in them. Also, while we may or may not invest in them ourselves at some point, we feel they are noteworthy enough to highlight in this format for the education of the industry, media and public.
The use of space resources, in space, is critical to developing an industrial economy in space. A first step towards that goal is changing the space paradigm away from disposability and towards re-useability. This is already happening with space transportation, but satellites are still considered to be disposable. Through their development of in-space fuel depots, Orbit Fab is helping usher in an age of reusable satellites.
In order to enable reusable satellites, Orbit Fab has worked with companies across the industry to build a standard refueling interface. From inputs provided by satellite constellations and servicing vehicles to integrators and thruster providers, Orbit Fab has developed and tested the Rapidly Attachable Fuel Transfer Interface known as RAFTI.
Orbit Fab envisions a thriving in-space market for products and services that support both existing space businesses (communications and Earth observation) and new industries like space tourism, manufacturing, and mining. The company will offer a ubiquitous supply of satellite propellant in Earth Orbit, expanding the operational potential of new and existing space assets and enabling unprecedented business model flexibility for satellite owners. The future for satellites is no longer restricted to the fuel they are launched with. The company will provide the fuel that satellites need, where and when they need it, to achieve things never thought possible.
The RAFTI fueling port can replace the fill and drain valves on a spacecraft, allowing for both the initial fueling on the ground and the option to refuel in orbit. The RAFTI fueling port is now commercially available, with the first delivery to a customer scheduled for later this month.
Left image: RAFTI pre-production model. Right image: RAFTI production model.
Orbit Fab was awarded a contract with the ISS U. S. National Lab to test the key systems of their tankers in microgravity that include pumps, valves, and plumbing. Their in-space demonstration analyzed the effects of residual momentum and slosh in the tanks with various levels of propellant.
What We Like
OrbitFab is an example of the new way to do business in space by disrupting from within – identify a need based on a blindspot in the traditional market and apply the frontier paradigm to the solution. Also, if you can, work within the system, burn as little of your investor’s funds as needed and get to the proof of your concept as fast as possible.
In less than one year after their first funding round, the company has completed two successful demonstration missions on the International Space Station (ISS) and became the first private company to supply water to the ISS using their own refueling equipment. In addition, they have started selling their first product, the RAFTI fill/drain port. With early revenue, and a strong customer focus, the team is rapidly building a new market for in-space fuel. The importance of fuel depots in space cannot be underscored enough. The establishment of an in-space supply chain, that will one day support thousands of new companies, depends first on the establishment of standardized fuel ports, and available gas stations.
OrbitFab in The News
Not even two years into its existence, orbital fuel supply startup Orbit Fab has chalked up a big win — successfully supplying the International Space Station with water, a first for any private company. It’s a big deal, because providing water to the ISS involved a multi-day refueling process, done in microgravity, using processes and equipment Orbit Fab developed itself.
A startup company that plans to develop tankers for refueling satellites has completed a key test of its technology on the International Space Station.
Orbit Fab announced June 18 it completed tests of an experiment called Furphy on the ISS, demonstrating the ability to transfer water between two satellite testbeds.
Daniel Faber and Jeremy Schiel share their vision for the future of space and the critical need for satellite fueling stations. With help from our partners at Bolt, a technology accelerator, Orbit Fab has developed a preliminary design that was launched with a SpaceX Dragon rocket and is now in place at the ISS. Read on to learn about their Furphy device and how fueling satellites will be a game changer in the next chapter of space technology.
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