WASHINGTON — Orbit Fab announced May 25 it selected an orbital vehicle made by Impulse Space to host a fuel depot for an in-orbit refueling demonstration funded by the U.S. military. 

A startup planning to offer in-orbit refueling services, Orbit Fab will seek to refuel the U.S. Space Force Tetra-5 spacecraft with up to 50 kilograms of hydrazine. The demonstration, planned for 2025, was funded by the Space Force and the Defense Innovation Unit. 

The Space Force last year awarded Orion Space Solutions a $50 million contract for the Tetra-5 experiment. Three satellites will be stationed in geostationary orbit (GEO) where Impulse Space’s Mira orbital service vehicle will serve as a hosting platform for Orbit Fab’s fuel depot.

“This demonstration will pave the way for future commercial orbital refueling services, as well as additional collaborative opportunities and missions between Orbit Fab and Impulse Space,” said Barry Matsumori, chief operating officer of Impulse Space.

Trying to build in-space economy

The Tetra-5 satellites and the fuel depot will use Orbit Fab’s refueling port known as RAFTI, or Rapidly Attachable Fuel Transfer Interface. Impulse Space will provide hosting services such as power, communications, attitude control and propulsion for the fuel depot. The Tetra spacecraft will rendezvous and dock with the depot.

The collaboration with the startup Impulse Space “brings us one step closer to a robust in-space economy supported by a network of fuel depots and fuel shuttles in geosynchronous orbit,” said Adam Harris, Orbit Fab’s chief commercial officer. 

Orbit Fab last year announced plans to start offering hydrazine for satellites in geostationary orbit as soon as 2025 using a depot and “fuel shuttle” spacecraft. 

“Establishing a future where companies know in advance the availability and price of fuel will permit them to build their satellites without having to exchange operational capabilities for longer lifetimes,” said Harris.

Impulse Space in January announced plans to launch its first orbital transfer vehicle on the SpaceX Transporter-9 rideshare mission scheduled to fly later this year. The company will offer the Mira platform for in-space transportation services.

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...