Orbit Fab’s Fab work in the Orbit
Orbit Fab becomes the first startup to supply water to the International Space Station paving the way for satellite refueling.
Orbit Fab announced on June 18, it completed tests of an experiment called Furphy on the ISS.
Orbit Fab is hardly a couple of years old and their work is a huge success because providing water to the ISS involved several days of refueling process, done in microgravity, using processes and equipment Orbit Fab developed itself.
Furphy demonstrated the ability to transfer water between two satellite testbeds. At the end of the tests, the water was transferred into the station’s own water supply, the first time a private payload supplied the station with water in that manner.
Jeremy Schiel, co-founder, and chief marketing officer of Orbit Fab, said – “The Furphy mission has allowed us to test the viability of refueling satellites in orbit,”
Orbit Fab is working toward establishing standards for satellite refueling interfaces to be used in orbital hardware, which could go a long way toward making it common practice to develop reusable satellites, instead of sticking with the more or less disposable hardware model used today.
As per the International Space Station United States National Laboratory’s COO Kenneth Shields, the key ingredient of the success is that this method of resupply is totally out of spec in terms of how this process was designed to work on the ISS. By creating and successfully demonstrating a system that the ISS designers never conceived, Orbit Fab has shown that both private companies and NASA have the flexibility needed to build business models on existing space infrastructure.
Ken Shields, chief operating officer of the ISS National Laboratory also said – “With their recent successful completion of in-orbit water transfer operations aboard the space station, Orbit Fab became the first private company to supply the ISS with water using its own proprietary refueling equipment and processes.”
Part of the company’s technology is a new interface for spacecraft refueling called the Rapidly Attachable Fuel Transfer Interface, or RAFTI. Orbit Fab has been working with satellite manufacturers on the development of RAFTI, which is intended to replace existing fill-and-drain valves on satellite fueling systems, allowing them to be fueled on the ground before launch as well as refueled in space. The first RAFTI system will be delivered to an unidentified customer later this month.
Since this is the first of its kind, there’s no competitor. The company plans to use the technologies tested on the ISS for future in-space tankers to enable refueling of satellites. The company has acknowledged that it is getting ahead of the market since no satellite refueling systems yet exist and most satellites are not designed to be refuelable in orbit.
Startups like Orbit Fab are the stepping stone to unlocking true commercialization of space, by identifying points in the value chain where innovation and enhancement can lead to cost or resource efficiencies and ensure that space business is also viable business, in terms of profit potential.