Benchmark Space Systems and Orbit Fab to collaborate on technologies for in-space refueling

Two start-ups are working on technologies that they hope will jump-start the satellite in-space refueling market. Orbit Fab, as well as Benchmark Space Systems, stated on February 23 that they are partnering to have the capacity to refuel the thrusters of Benchmark with the hydrogen peroxide propellant supplied in low Earth orbit via an Orbit Fab tanker.

The tanker spacecraft, known as Tanker-001 Tenzing, would deploy on the SpaceX rideshare flight brokered by the Spaceflight later this year. Before deployment, Benchmark will measure such a tanker’s fueling on the ground utilizing an Orbit Fab-developed interface known as RAFTI. For clients requiring in-space refueling of their spacecraft, the very same interface would be equipped with Benchmark’s thrusters.

“It was a straightforward move.”  In a conversation, Daniel Faber, chief executive officer of Orbit Fab, said that “we hoped to create our fuel port available to even more customers. To make it easier for satellite integrators as well as satellite operators, it felt right to combine these as a product offering.” Benchmark doesn’t have one of its thrusters in the orbit but has many clients who can utilize them on its Sherpa tug, like Spaceflight. The company plans to have 50% a dozen of its propulsion modules in space by the end of the year, stated Chris Carella, who serves as the vice president in charge of business development and planning at Benchmark.

“All of our buyers are future customers of the Orbit Fab,” Carella stated in an interview but mentioned that none of them had signed up for the refueling yet. Spaceflight for its Sherpa tug and undisclosed Defense Department clients who want the opportunity to “maneuver without remorse” by being allowed to refuel after conducting maneuvers, thereby increasing the spaceship’s life, are among possible early users.

A start-up planning to provide on-orbit inspection services was another instance he cited. The company is looking for “mobility as an operation” so that Benchmark can provide refueling services via the tanker of Orbit Fab instead of guessing how much fuel its inspector would need to carry out its task. As part of the collaboration, Benchmark is considering demonstrations of rendezvous and proximity operations to “prove other parts of the tanking process.”

“The tanker would hold a variant of hydrogen peroxide labeled high-test peroxide (HTP), which is a fuel benchmark chosen because it prevents the handling problems linked with the toxic propellant such as hydrazine, but for its catalysts,” Carella stated, unlike many other non-toxic propellants, it does not require “exotic materials.”  “Through utilizing hydrogen peroxide, we are able to save a lot of costs.”