WASHINGTON — Orbit Fab, a startup developing infrastructure to refuel satellites in space, said its docking mechanism for transferring propellant has been qualified for flight after completing a battery of tests to simulate harsh conditions in orbit.

The company announced March 19 that its RAFTI satellite refueling port has passed qualification tests assessing its ability to withstand extreme temperatures, vibrations and radiation exposure encountered in space environments. 

RAFTI, short for Rapidly Attachable Fluid Transfer Interface, is a docking interface that allows satellites to receive propellant from external sources while on the ground or in orbit.

Pricing Revealed

Orbit Fab on March 19 also unveiled pricing for the RAFTI refueling ports, setting the price tag at $30,000 per unit. Executives said the number was based on market research into the pricing of fill and drain valves widely used across the satellite industry.

“With a qualified port design, satellite manufacturers can now incorporate RAFTI with more confidence, knowing it has passed rigorous testing,” said Adam Harris,Orbit Fab’s chief commercial officer.

Clearing these tests paves the way for Orbit Fab to deliver the first 100 RAFTI units to U.S. government and commercial customers over the next year, Harris said. 

Orbit Fab also unveiled a new RAFTI Ground Coupling, an interface to facilitate ground fueling at launch sites.

Based in Lafayette, Colorado, Orbit Fab is among a handful of companies developing technologies to service and maintain satellites to prolong their utility. Northrop Grumman, an investor in Orbit Fab, recently announced that its satellite refueling module passed a U.S. Space Force design review.

Daniel Faber, Orbit Fab’s founder and CEO, said the company is in discussions with several companies that intend to manufacture and sell RAFTI under licensing agreements. 

Space Force refueling mission

The first spacecraft expected to go to space with RAFTI ports are three Space Force Tetra-5 satellites projected to launch in 2025 to geostationary orbit for a refueling demonstration. An Orbit Fab fuel depot will lock on the satellite’s RAFTI fueling port and replenish the satellite in orbit.

On the commercial side, the satellite-servicing firm Astroscale is equipping its Life Extension In-Orbit (LEXI) spacecraft with RAFTI for missions scheduled to start in 2026. Astroscale also is using the RAFTI and Orbit Fab’s GRIP — an active docking and fluid transfer mechanism — in a servicing vehicle being developed for the U.S .Space Force.

Orbit Fab also recently announced an agreement with satellite-servicing specialist ClearSpace to pair an Orbit Fab fuel depot with a ClearSpace shuttle.

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...