WASHINGTON — Orbit Fab, a venture-funded startup offering a refueling service in space, announced it has won a $12 million deal to ensure its fueling interface works with U.S. military satellites. 

The funding includes $6 million from the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Space Force, and $6 million from Orbit Fab’s private investors. The contract is for the integration of Orbit Fab’s fueling port, called RAFTI — short for rapidly attachable fluid transfer interface — with military satellites. The port allows satellites to receive propellant from Orbit Fab’s tankers in space.

This is the largest government contract won by the company to date, Jeremy Schiel, founder and chief development officer, told SpaceNews March 17.

“It’s another huge indicator that people really want refueling,” he said. “The government over the last two years has been pushing refueling efforts really hard. People want assurance that we are going to be able to provide that fuel in the orbit that they need.”

The Air Force last year awarded Orbit Fab a $750,000 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract to flight quality the RAFTI port. 

Orbit Fab’s plan is to deploy propellant tankers to serve as gas stations in space. Its first tanker was launched last year to low Earth orbit. Its first geostationary tanker is projected to launch later this year or next year on a SpaceX commercial lunar lander mission. 

The company is working with commercial and government customers to equip their satellites with RAFTI ports so they can be refueled and continue operating. The military is interested in this technology primarily to get more mileage out of its satellites in geostationary orbit. 

Orbit Fab won what is known as a STRATFI contract, short for strategic financing. STRATFI is a funding initiative created by the Air Force to allow companies that win SBIR contracts to compete for bigger awards that are matched by private investment

Schiel said there are no plans yet to conduct an on-orbit demonstration with a military satellite “but we’re in talks.”

Founded in 2018, Orbit Fab is based in San Francisco but announced plans to move to Colorado. It has attracted financial support from defense contractors Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin.

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...