Orbital operations startup Astroscale has revealed intriguing details about its ambitious $25.5 million project in collaboration with the Space Force. The project aims to explore the concept of refueling satellites in space, offering a potential solution to extend the operational life of satellites that lack the necessary fuel to maintain their assigned altitude and trajectory.
Astroscale’s approach involves the development of the Astroscale Prototype Servicer for Refueling (APS-R), a compact satellite roughly the size of a gas pump. The APS-R will navigate to geosynchronous orbit (GEO) at an altitude of approximately 300 kilometers. Once in position, it will descend to rendezvous with a “prepared client” satellite equipped with the appropriate refueling port. While the specific client satellite is not officially designated in the provided information, Astroscale envisions a scenario where it refuels satellites lacking the fuel required to continue their mission effectively.
Image Credit: Astroscale
After successfully refueling the client satellite, the APS-R will perform an inspection to identify any fuel leaks or potential issues that operators may need to address. Following the inspection, the satellite will ascend to GEO+ and rendezvous with a Defense Innovation Unit RAPIDS fuel depot—an orbital gas station concept.
While other space-based refueling concepts opt for self-contained fuel storage on the craft itself, Astroscale’s innovative approach involves acting as an intermediary between the station and the customer. This concept has drawn comparisons to an “AAA truck traveling at 25,000 MPH.”
This innovative space tech startup is currently in the “concept of operations” phase, with a 50-50 cost split. Astroscale anticipates delivering the APS-R by 2026, contributing to advancements in space sustainability and potentially revolutionizing satellite servicing and longevity in orbit. As space exploration and satellite deployment continue to expand, innovative space technology solutions like orbital refueling could become pivotal in maximizing the value and lifespan of costly satellite investments.