Colorado-based company Orbit Fab is developing technology to allow satellites to be refueled while they are in orbit, as shown in this rendering. Scroll through the gallery to see more.
Orbit Fab wants new satellites to be equipped with a standardized fueling port — called RAFTI, which stands for Rapid Attachable Fluid Transfer Interface.
This rendering shows how an Orbit Fab fuel shuttle would dock with an on-orbit satellite equipped with a RAFTI refueling port.
NASA has pioneered refueling satellites in orbit and its OSAM-1 mission will attempt to grab and refuel Landsat-7, an Earth-observation satellite that has run out of gas, as shown in this artist's impression.
Currently, satellites can't be refueled in space, meaning that when they run out of fuel they become space debris, which can break up into smaller pieces. There is estimated to be 36,500 objects larger than 10 centimeters (3.94 inches) around planet Earth. This computer-generated image shows objects in Earth orbit that are currently being tracked. Around 95% of the objects shown are non-functional satellites.
Some companies and space agencies are working on removing space junk. Astroscale plans to use a magnetic docking plate to latch onto satellites and remove them from orbit, as shown in this artist's impression. The company has also developed the world's first refuelable satellite, which will be fitted with Orbit Fab's RAFTI fuel port.
The European Space Agency (ESA) is working with Swiss start-up Clearspace SA to demonstrate the technologies needed to remove debris from space. A mission set to launch in 2026 will capture a 112-kg defunct rocket part for atmospheric re-entry. It will use a vehicle called ClearSpace-1, shown in this rendering.