Benchmark Space Systems unveils in-space mobility-as-a-service business

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TAMPA, Fla. — Satellite propulsion startup Benchmark Space Systems has secured customers for a new ‘mobility-as-a-service’ business, which similar to a taxi ride will charge them based on the amount of propellant they use.

Burlington, Vermont-based Benchmark said its in-space mobility service significantly reduces upfront propulsion costs for on-orbit servicing, assembly and manufacturing (OSAM) ventures with indefinite propulsion needs.

Satellite operators could pay as little as 10% of the upfront cost for installing its thrusters under a long-term agreement, according to Benchmark executive vice president of business development Chris Carella, enabling them to amortize the rest of the expense as revenues come in.

“The contracts are intended to extend through the entire mission; however if there was a particular need to negotiate a handoff similar to buying out a lease, Benchmark would work to accommodate,” Carella told SpaceNews in an interview.

The business model is designed to support the OSAM ecosystem as the market takes shape for extending the lives of satellites, repairing them and other emerging applications.

It means these startups can invest more of their upfront capital in other parts of the business, while paying for on-demand propulsion from operational revenues.

SCOUT, an in-space inspection and situational awareness provider, and Orbit Fab, which is developing in-space refueling stations for satellites, are the first two customers for Benchmark’s new business model.

OSAM ventures such as these are increasing the demand for greater mobility and precision in space.

“There’s a lot of innovation on the technical side in space, but an innovation on the business side like this one from Benchmark doesn’t happen enough,” said Adam Harris, vice president of business development at Orbit Fab.

“This mobility-as-a-service model will change the way companies do business in space.”

Carella also pointed to a maturing space ecosystem where companies are increasingly outsourcing various elements to specialists.

He said its pay-as-you-go service reduces the burden on OSAM ventures to choose propulsion systems that can cover all potential operational scenarios.

“This is something that just closes well in a service-type offering,” he added.

“Now that there are service vehicles, folks want their costs to be tightly coupled with their revenues. They don’t want to dump all their costs upfront.”

Benchmark’s nontoxic chemical Halcyon propulsion system aims to gain flight heritage after launching on the SpaceX Transporter 2 ride-share mission, slated for June 25.

Its thrusters will be filled with propellant from Orbit Fab’s Tanker-001 Tenzing, which is also on the launch mission to demo capabilities.