Indian scientist developing orbiting fuel stations to extend satellites’ life

BENGALURU: With air-to-air refueling proving the capability of enhancing long-haul flights, an Indian  is now eyeing to take a similar technology to the next level — space. With an increasing number of satellites orbiting Earth, an entrepreneur-cum-researcher at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) is developing an in-orbit satellite refueling technology with an orbital fuel station and servicing centre in space. This would be the first such venture in the world.


The aim is to extend the life of on-mission satellites to reduce satellite launch frequencies, avoid higher costs of sending new satellites to replace old ones, and ensure lesser space debris in the future. The 34-year-old entrepreneur-researcher Sakthikumar R already has a start-up named ‘OrbitAID Aerospace’, which is incubated at the MSME Centre of Excellence at IISc.


“It is developing an in-orbit re-fueling technology for satellite life extension. We are also planning to build an orbital fuel station in space soon,” Sakthikumar told The New Sunday Express. The life cycle of a satellite depends upon its fuel capacity. Lack of fuel and servicing can push a healthy, functioning satellite sooner into the junk orbit away from common operational orbits.He said the tanker satellite will go to the customer satellite and refuel it without affecting its operations.


‘Tech demo in a year or two’


“For re-fueling, we have developed a product called Standard Interface Docking and Re-fueling Port. It is a fill-and-drain valve with a combined dual docking mechanism fuel station which can also enable re-fueling future interplanetary missions,” Sakthikumar added.


OrbitAID is in talks with  ISRO  and some international partners for the launch. “We plan to do the technology demonstration in a year or two,” Sakthi said. The plans also entail on-orbit-servicing (OOS) for space applications. “OOS entails servicing, repairing and even upgrading satellites that are in orbit,” he said.


He added, “With a growing need for OOS the world over and the push from the the Union government to support private enterprises in space, the time is ripe for installing an indigenous homegrown space enterprise that seeks to challenge the paradigm of satellite launches and their cost.”