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Orbit Fab’s First Fuel Depot to Launch in 2021, Which Just Sounds Like Marketing Until You Realize That Marketing is Really Important

Debra Werner, for SpaceNews, on Orbit Fab signing a launch agreement with Spaceflight:

Under the agreement, Orbit Fab’s first operational fuel depot, Tanker-001 Tenzing, will launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 as early as June 2021. Tanker-001 Tenzing will store a green propellant in sun synchronous orbit to refuel other spacecraft, Orbit Fab CEO Daniel Faber told SpaceNews.

“We’re building the world’s first operational satellite fuel depot,” Faber said. “This helps us solve the chicken and egg problem. No one is buying fuel in orbit because no one is selling it. We built an egg.”

Orbit Fab has a $3 million contract with the US Air Force to flight qualify their Rapidly Attachable Fluid Transfer Interface (RAFTI):

Orbit Fab’s Tanker-001 Tenzing scheduled to launch on a Spaceflight’s Sherpa-FX orbital transfer vehicle will be housed in an Astro Digital satellite based on its Corvus-XL bus.

Brian Cooper, Astro Digital lead systems engineer, said by email the mission is a good example of Astro Digitals mission-as-a-service business because alongside Tanker-001 Tenzing, the satellite will house a pair of Accion Systems  TILE2 thrusters.

It’s easy to shrug off the marketing of this as their “first operational fuel depot” because they’re flying with a good bit of funding as a pathfinder mission for their hardware.

But for something like a refueling interface that requires adoption by at least a good number of customers for Orbit Fab to find success, marketing is really important.

You want to show prospective customers that you are serious, that you are invested in the hardware, and that you intend to provide services into the future, when customers would then rely on you for refueling. It’s hard to do that without putting something up in orbit and validating it, and making a big marketing push around launch is an important part of driving that message into customers’ minds.