Orbit Fab, a San Francisco startup, has raised more than $10 million to become the leading source of orbital refueling. The money will be used to fund a refueling test that is due to launch at the end of 2022. In it, the company will send two refueling ships to space that will perform a three-step docking, transfer fuel, and undock process.
Asymmetry Ventures led the round, which also included SpaceFund as an existing investor and new investors Marubeni Ventures. Audacious Venture Partners was also involved. Lockheed Martin Ventures and Northrop Grumman Corporation participated in the round, which was the first time that the two contractors-rivals had done an investment together. Orbit Fab cofounder Jeremy Schiel explained to TechCrunch.
Schiel stated that we are the tide that lifts all boats. While we don't give either side a competitive advantage, we can all have better options for space sustainability.
He said that getting the two primes to get along is crucial for the company which wants to be the preferred source for space refueling. Orbit Fab was a finalist at our TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield 2019. The company has developed a refueling device it calls RAFTI (Rapid attachable fluid transfer interface). However, this component must be installed before any spacecraft leave Earth. This means that major customers such as aerospace contractors will need to buy in before their satellites enter orbit.
It is hoped that spacecraft equipped with RAFTI could dock with an Orbit Fabs refuelling shuttle, which would then be positioned in low-Earth orbit, geostationary orbit, and eventually even cis–lunar space. Schiel stated that he hopes all spacecraft will be equipped with RAFTI by 2025. The company has a long-term vision. They plan to produce fuel in space using asteroids.
Schiel stated that we want to be the Dow Chemical for space. We want to be the first to buy material from asteroid miners and lunar miners. Then we will convert it into usable propellants that can be produced in orbit.
Orbit Fab claims that orbital refueling is the foundation of the burgeoning space economy. This means goods and spacecraft need to be moved from one orbit to the next (a task that is extremely fuel-intensive) or to create supply chains to return resources back to Earth.
Schiel said that we want to be the supply chain for propellant.