Colorado Springs (AFP/APP): The US company Orbit Fab is aiming to produce the go-to “gas stations” in space, its CEO tells AFP, hoping its refuelling technology will make the surging satellite industry more sustainable — and profitable.
The solar panels typically attached to satellites can generate energy for their onboard systems such as cameras and radios, but can’t help the orbiting objects adjust their positions, explains Daniel Faber, who co-founded the company in 2018.
“Everything always drifts, and so very quickly, you’re not where you needed to be — so you need to keep adjusting, which means you need to keep using up propellant,” he tells AFP at the space industry’s annual gathering in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Satellites’ lives are therefore limited by how much fuel they can carry along with them — at least for now.
“If you can refuel satellites in orbit,” Faber says, “you can stop them having to be thrown away” — a model he describes as “crazy” due to their high cost to manufacture and launch.
His company envisions sending several large tanks into orbit, each containing up to several tons of fuel.
Then smaller, more easily manoeuvrable vessels will shuttle back and forth between the tanks and satellites — like robotic pump attendants.
Asked what the risks associated with operating such a system in orbit are, Faber is candid: “Everything you might imagine.”
But he reassures that with lots of testing on the ground, and in orbit, “it’s going to be safe.”
Like cars, satellites hoping to receive additional propellant from Orbit Fab will have to have compatible fuel ports.

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