Atomos Space is demonstrating multi-party rendezvous and proximity operations with a new hardware test facility in Broomfield, Colorado. Credit: Atomos Space

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. – Atomos Space won a $1.6 million AFWERX contract to establish a ground-based testing facility for multi-party rendezvous and proximity operations.

Under the contract announced Oct. 18, Atomos is working with Axiom Space to establish processes for rendezvous with Axiom’s future space station.

“Developing the capability to do multi-party rendezvous, proximity operations and docking is enabling for some really interesting missions including refueling, payload delivery and cargo services,” Atomos Space CEO Vanessa Clark told SpaceNews. “Anything that enables three different spacecraft or objects in space to interact safely in a highly reliable way is enabling for government and commercial missions.”

For the AFWERX Direct-to-Phase 2 contract, Broomfield, Colorado-based Atomos will supply both the servicer and the client spacecraft to interact with the Axiom Station in the test facility. One goal is to demonstrate that communications, fault detection systems and abort procedures are consistent and compatible.

“Rather than just having software simulations to validate our approach, we have full hardware in the loop,” Clark said. “We can prove out that the full-stack flight software, all of the spacecraft sensors for rendezvous, all of the actuators and the propulsion system work together in this critical space operation. This is a capability that currently only exists at large aerospace primes or select government facilities.”

Atomos plans to launch its first orbital transfer vehicle on a SpaceX Transporter rideshare flight in 2024.

Bringing Axiom Onboard

When Atomos originally proposed the multi-party rendezvous project to AFWERX, Houston-based Axiom was not involved. Adding the Axiom Station provides “a real scenario and a real target,” Clark said. “Also, having someone like Axiom, who has to be compliant to NASA’s human spaceflight standards, will enhance the performance of our system.”

In a statement, Jason Aspiotis, director of Axiom in-space infrastructure and logistics, said “We’re excited to partner with Atomos to develop processes and requirements for Orbital Transfer Vehicles to rendezvous with Axiom Station, the world’s first commercial space station. This partnership unlocks new ways of resupplying our space station. It also lays the foundation for interoperable and cooperative uncrewed and crewed space infrastructure, thus enhancing in-space logistics capabilities for commercial and government customers.”

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...