Orbit Fab is putting up the investment to place the geostationary satellite gas station in orbit for future military, intelligence, and commercial assets.
Named Tanker-002, Orbit Fab will place their second orbital refueling station in a geostationary orbit around Earth in the hope that potential customers will buy into the idea. That’s right, Orbit Fab has no current customer base, as no satellite has the capability to refuel in orbit, but the list of potential customers is endless. They hope that now that the possibility exists, more satellites will add the technology onto the satellites.
Satellites launched to geostationary orbit, which are usually large and expensive, tend to be limited in lifespan by the size of their fuel tanks. The fuel is used in their station-keeping thrusters to ensure that they stay over the correct spot on the Earth they are meant to cover. Once this fuel gets low, the satellite is boosted higher into a graveyard orbit, where it will stay for millions of years. When these satellites reach their end-of-life, they are replaced by brand new, equally expensive, satellites.
The idea of refueling these expensive satellites has existed for a while, but has been an issue of which should come first, the refuelable satellite or the refueling station. Orbit Fab is taking a risky step by putting up stations without satellites capable of service yet – they hope this will change. This idea joins another plan already in operation, Northrop Grumman’s Mission Extension Vehicle. This vehicle attaches onto satellites directly and uses its own thrusters to extend the lifespan of the satellite. So far, it has launched twice and has proven useful for the industry.
The space age gas station will hitch a ride with SpaceX
This mission will fly as a secondary payload to the Moon on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Orbit Fab is partnering with Spaceflight Inc. to use a Sherpa-ES orbital transfer vehicle to get the station into orbit around Earth. The trajectory takes it first around the Moon before aiming for its target orbit out in geostationary orbit.
“This is the first tanker in this orbit, and Spaceflight has come up with a new way to get us there efficiently. Hydrazine fuel will be available for delivery as soon as it arrives, though we intend to take some time to demonstrate our long-term storage technology. When it’s not making a fuel delivery, we will be parking our tanker a few hundred kilometers away from the geostationary belt so as not to clutter up the orbit.”
James Bultitude, Orbit Fab’s Chief Engineer
The primary payload, Intuitive Machines’ IM-1 lunar lander, is not expected to launch until early 2022.