Startups join forces to support ‘gas stations’ in orbit

Starfish Space, a startup founded by veterans of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture, is teaming up with Vermont-based Benchmark Space Systems to work on a precision-guided orbital refueling system for satellites.

The strategic collaboration calls for Starfish — which has its home base not far from Blue Origin’s HQ in Kent, Wash. — to test its Cephalopod docking software with Benchmark’s Halcyon thruster system. The Halcyon thrusters use non-toxic hydrogen peroxide as their propellant.

The setup would get its first on-orbit demonstration during Orbit Fab’s Tanker-001 Tenzing mission, which is due for launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket next month. (The pre-launch logistics for that rideshare mission, known as Transporter-2, are being handled by Seattle-based Spaceflight Inc.)

“This Cephalopod mission is an exciting step for Starfish Space,” Trevor Bennett, Starfish’s co-founder, said today in a news release. “Our RPOD [rendezvous, proximity operations and docking] operations will validate our novel capabilities and set the stage for a new era of affordable and available satellite servicing.”

On-orbit servicing and refueling could extend the operating lifetimes of satellites, or allow for new spacecraft designs that wouldn’t need to carry so much fuel into orbit for in-space maneuvering.

By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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