Astroscale U.S. and Space Force Partner to Revolutionize In-Orbit Satellite Refueling

engineering careers  Astroscale U.S. and Space Force Partner to Revolutionize In-Orbit Satellite Refueling

Aerial refuelling radically transformed aviation by removing limitations on aircraft range and endurance. An innovative collaboration between Astroscale U.S. and the United States Space Force could bring those benefits to space assets through an advanced on-orbit satellite refuelling capability.

The public-private partnership will see Astroscale U.S. use its expertise in in-space logistics to develop the Astroscale Prototype Servicer for Refueling (APS-R). With $25.5 million in government funding matched by an additional $12 million Astroscale U.S. investment, the project aims to deliver launch-ready refuelling spacecraft that can extend satellite lifetime, flexibility, and sustainability.

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The envisioned APS-R spacecraft builds on core on-orbit servicing and life extension tech. Approximately the size of a petrol pump, the small satellite will utilize rendezvous and proximity technologies to locate compatible client satellites in geostationary orbit (GEO) and transfer up to 100kg of storable hydrazine propellant permission.

Rather than requiring clients to expend precious onboard fuel manoeuvring to a depot, APS-R brings the petrol station to the customer.

This allows supported spacecraft like Astroscale’s Life Extension In-Orbit (LEXI) servicing vehicle to conduct continuous daily operations during refuelling.

APS-R integrates commercially available Orbit Fab Rapidly Attachable Fluid Transfer Interface (RAFTI) ports to ensure interface compatibility. After refuelling, the spacecraft can even perform visual inspections to check for leaks or other anomalies at its client’s request.

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Astroscale U.S. has tapped Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) facilities in San Antonio, Texas, for APS-R spacecraft bus construction. Coupled with the specialist knowledge of key project partners like Orbit Fab, the company targets an ambitious 24-month schedule to deliver a launch-ready refuelling vehicle by 2026.

Overseen by the Space Force’s Space Systems Command (SSC), the APS-R program leverages an Other Transaction Authority (OTA) contracting mechanism that helps nimbly inject emerging commercial capabilities into critical military space architecture. As Colonel Joyce Bulson, SSC service lead for Space Mobility and Logistics, explains, “With APS-R, we are not merely extending the operational life of satellites; we are enhancing our responsiveness, flexibility and overall mission capabilities.”

Just as air forces transitioned from short-range tactical craft to flexible and sustainable refuelable bombers and transports, APS-R allows the Space Force to stretch operational capabilities without expensive satellite replacement. With the door opened to rethinking spacecraft and mission design unbounded by propellant restrictions, the TRL-9 demonstrated that the program could revolutionize how we design and maintain satellites.

 

TLDR:

  • Astroscale U.S. won a $25.5M Space Force contract to develop the in-orbit satellite refuelling vehicle APS-R
  • APS-R will transfer up to 100kg hydrazine to compatible satellites to extend missions
  • The partnership seeks to revolutionize space operations by removing fuel restrictions
  • Vehicle-based on Astro scale’s satellite life extension technologies and Orbit Fab’s refuelling ports
  • Launch targeted for 2026 to support Space Force’s next-gen space mobility and logistics