Orbital refuelling startup Orbit Fab backed by Lockheed and Northrop following successful testing


Startup Orbit Fab has raised US$10 million following the successful demonstrations of its orbital refueling and resupply technology.

The San Francisco-based company’s latest backers include Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin.

Orbit Fab co-founder Jeremy Schiel said, “On-orbit refueling is a paradigm shift for the industry, pioneering reusable spacecraft and new flexible mission operations will allow for new business models.

“Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin both see clear value in on-orbit refueling to create a bustling in-space economy. It’s great to see two Aerospace and Defense leaders embracing this technology. Their investment will help drive the adoption of our on-orbit refueling services and allow us to support the growing satellite servicing industry.”

Orbit Fab became the first private company to resupply the ISS with water in 2019, qualifying the company’s feed systems and flex tank to NASA standards for crew rated systems in just six months.

In June 2021, Orbit Fab celebrated the launch of Tenzing, the world’s first on-orbit fuel depot.

Orbit Fab’s Rapidly Attachable Fluid Transfer Interface (RAFTI), is a fueling port that enables satellites to be refueled in orbit which can be used as a drop-in replacement for existing satellite fill-and-drain valves.

The RAFTI fueling port was proven during its June 2021 flight on Tanker-001 Tenzing.

“With technology moving so rapidly and creating new market entrants, we’re embracing opportunities to partner with emerging technology companies like Orbit Fab to accelerate innovation in new capabilities for our customers,” said David Jacobs, vice president, corporate strategy at Northrop Grumman.

This follows the first docking of Northrop Grumman’s Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV-1) to a client satellite in graveyard orbit in early 2020 to provide life extension services, and the successful docking of the MEV-2 to an in-service client satellite in geostationary orbit earlier this year.

Chris Moran, vice president, executive director and general manager of Lockheed Martin Ventures said, “Lockheed Martin has a long legacy of investing in and developing servicing capabilities and their enabling technologies. This includes for military and commercial, large and small space systems.

“Our charter is to strategically invest in smaller technology companies focused on innovative technologies within our existing businesses, and Orbit Fab fits this criteria. We look forward to working with Orbit Fab and gaining access to their in-orbit refueling technology, an important component of space flight logistics that could help our customers address new and evolving threats.”

Orbit Fab’s architecture is a system of tankers and fuel shuttles in LEO, GEO, and cis- lunar space. Accessing fuel in-orbit will allow satellite operators to defer capital costs, increase asset utilization and lifetime, and create the opportunity for new, flexible business models. Orbit Fab expects this refueling infrastructure to underpin the emergence of a bustling in-space economy.

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Ben has worked as a journalist and editor, covering technology, engineering and industry for the last 20 years. Initially writing about subjects from nuclear submarines to autonomous cars to future design and manufacturing technologies, he was editor of a leading UK-based engineering magazine before becoming editor of Aerospace Testing in 2017.

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