Gas stations in space: the first delivery contract has just been signed

Gas stations in space the first delivery contract has just

The market for in-orbit services to satellites is slow to take off. However, the needs exist. And that, many start-ups have understood and engage in these markets announced as flourishing. This is the case of the American start-up Orbit Fab, created in 2018, which works on commercial fuel depots in space. A first service contract has been signed.

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[EN VIDÉO] How many satellites revolve around the Earth?
2,787 satellites were operational as of December 31, 2020 according to the UCS (Union of Concerned Scientists) association, more than half of which were launched by the United States. Three quarters of the satellites in operation rotate in low orbit (between 500 and 2,000 km altitude), and are used for telecommunications systems, terrestrial imaging or meteorology.

A year ago, in February 2020, an unprecedented maneuver in orbit geostationary has opened a new era. That of the service to satellites in orbit. the space tug MEV-1 of Northrop Grumman docked with the Intelsat 901 telecommunications satellite to take control of it and extend its duration five-year life.

On January 11, Orbit Fab and Astroscale signed an agreement for future Lexi service vehicles (Life Extension In-Orbit) are refueled in geostationary orbit by an Orbit Fab fuel depot. Under the terms of this agreement, the Lexi will be able to refuel and take up to one ton of Xenon, at a fixed price, the fuel needed for the Lexi’s electric motors. To do this, Astroscale satellites will have to carry the fuel transfer interface developed by Orbit Fab. Ratfi, that’s his name, for Rapidly Attachable Fluid Transfer Interface is undergoing rapid development. It has already been tested on board the International Space Station.

Creation of the first service stations in space. © OrbitFab

The ambitious objective of having the first fuel depot in orbit by 2023

A first Lexi service vehicle is expected to be launched in 2026 to extend the service life of satellites which may belong to a very wide variety of customers (telecommunications satellite operators, constellation of satellites or the American government, including for American defense for example). The services that the Lexi satellites will provide will be very varied. They include orbital maneuvers, such as station keeping, attitude control or tilt change. But also more energy-intensive maneuvers such as relocation or withdrawal into graveyard orbit. These maneuvers will obviously empty the tanks of the Lexi satellites, hence the usefulness of refueling in orbit rather than sending a Lexi to refuel another Lexi.

As for the Orbit Fab fuel depots, the start-up plans to send the first two units into low orbit in the course of 2023. Over a period of five to ten years, Orbit Fab plans to deploy dozens of fuel depots in orbit near customer constellations of satellites. its services and in geostationary orbit to meet the needs of telecommunications satellite maintenance services. It also provides repositories in cislunar orbit to support human activities and robotics related toexploration of the moon.

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