Phase Four and Orbit Fab will work on refueling the Maxwell engine

SAN FRANCISCO — Phase Four propulsion startup has signed a memorandum of understanding with satellite refueling startup Orbit Fab to prepare future Phase Four Maxwell engines for in-orbit refueling.

“As we build and deliver an increasing number of Maxwell engines to our customers, we want to be forward looking for mission life extension services such as in-orbit refueling,” said the CEO. of phase four, Beau Jarvis, in a statement. Working with Orbit Fab “is an obvious step” for phase four to ensure that “future customers have the ability to refuel their spacecraft and extend the life of the mission,” Jarvis added.

Under the agreement announced Jan. 24, the companies will work together to evaluate the refueling potential of traditional electric thrusters like Xenon for Phase Four Maxwell engines as well as new thrusters like the Advanced Spacecraft Energetic Non- Toxic or ASCENT, a monopropellant developed by the Air Force Research Laboratory.

“We’re excited about the prospect of investigating refueling with non-traditional propellants that are significantly cheaper or more densely storable than traditional noble gases like xenon,” Jarvis said.

In December, Phase Four unveiled its second generation of satellite thrusters that rely on radio frequency technology to produce plasma. The El Segundo, California startup plans to begin shipping the new thrusters to customers later this year.

Orbit Fab has developed an interface for spacecraft refueling called the Rapidly Attachable Fluid Transfer Interface or RAFTI. The Denver-based startup sent its first fuel depot, Tanker-001 Tenzing, into low Earth orbit last year.

For Phase Four, “Collaborating with a talented team at Orbit Fab will extend mission life, which will unlock a variety of mission applications in LEO and beyond,” said Bryce Dabbs, Vice -president of phase four. SpaceNews. “This is particularly important to our team and our customers because, although we have proven operability in flight using traditional thrusters like xenon, our fuel-independent engines extend their openness to more advanced thrusters which significantly improve engine parameters. performance of interest for dual-use applications.”

For a long time there has been a chicken and egg problem with orbital resupply. Spacecraft were not designed to be refueled because there was no orbital refueling option. It’s starting to change.

“The causal dilemma between in-orbit refueling services and engines designed to be refueled tilts heavily in our team’s favor,” Dabbs said. “Our engines are designed to provide simple plug-and-play capability in customer spacecraft. We also strive to be forward-looking in terms of future capabilities that customers may request.”

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