July 15, 2024
1 Solar System Way, Planet Earth, USA

Orbit Fab completes ground test of satellite fuel payload

WASHINGTON — Orbit Fab, a Colorado-based startup developing hardware for resupplying satellites in space, announced a successful test of its refueling nozzle known as GRIP (Grapple, Reposition, and Interface Payload), which is designed to dock with satellites and transfer propellant.

Chief Executive Officer Daniel Faber said in an interview that the tests, conducted at the Air Force Research Laboratory facility at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico, demonstrated GRIP's ability to dock with a satellite equipped with RAFTI by Orbit Fab (Quick-connect fluid transfer interface refueling port).

“The test demonstrated that GRIP can establish and maintain a secure fluid connection, enabling in-orbit refueling operations,” Faber explained. The basketball-sized GRIP device simulated the refueling of a satellite.

GRIP’s active coupling and fluid transfer mechanism is designed to work in conjunction with RAFTI, which replaces traditional fill and dump valves in satellite propulsion systems. Faber said this combination eliminates the need for complex robotic arms in refueling operations, significantly simplifying the process.

Illustration of Orbit Fab's GRIP resupply nozzle approaching a client satellite. Credit: Orbit Fab

The successful test comes as Orbit Fab positions itself in what appears to be a two-horse race with the defense giant. Northrop Grumman to capture the emerging military satellite resupply market.

The U.S. Space Force is actively evaluating the two companies' refueling technologies, said Col. Joseph Roth, director of the Space Systems Command's prototyping and innovation directorate.

Speaking at the recent “State of the Space Industrial Base” conference in Albuquerque, Roth highlighted the importance of in-orbit refueling“We want to get those technologies into orbit, test them in an operational environment and hedge our bets because we don't know which one will work or which one will work better than the other,” Roth said, referring to refueling hardware from Orbit Fab and Northrop Grumman.

“Space is a warfighting environment and the ability to maneuver is a huge distinct advantage for our forces,” Roth said. He also noted that the government will likely have to “lay the groundwork” to get the market up and running, as a robust commercial market for in-space refueling has yet to emerge.

Orbit Fab’s next major milestone will be the Space Force’s Tetra-5 experiment in 2025, where three fuel delivery vehicles using the GRIP interface will attempt to dock and transfer propellant to three satellites in geostationary orbit.

The company is now moving toward flight qualification for GRIP, which will involve environmental testing to ensure its readiness for space operations.

“We will provide GRIP and related fluid transfer systems to multiple partners looking to add fueling capability to their satellite servicing vehicles,” Faber said. At the same time, Orbit Fab is in talks with manufacturers to obtain production licenses for its RAFTI refueling port.

Orbit Fab

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