Back in 2019, as part of an announcement of 19 different public/private sector partnerships with 10 different companies, NASA announced that SpaceX and two NASA centers, the Glenn Research Center in Ohio and the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, would work together on space-borne refueling systems. On September 7th, Ship 26 which has long been speculated to be the first Starship that would become an on-orbit fuel depot, rolled to the test area in Boca Chica for testing (video). The rumor is that Ship 26 will be the third orbital Starship test. Given we're about to enter the 3rd quarter of this year, I have to conclude that the third orbital mission would most likely be No Earlier Than the second half of '24.
Title screen from the video on
- not the video itself. That's ship 26 on the test pad, being
readied for a set of tests that may end up including static
firing. No thermal tiles, no fins or aero surfaces? It's never going to be reused, so why lift weight you don't need?
All of this to set up the story that two small companies are teaming up with the goal of demonstrating on-orbit refueling.
The two companies are betting on a future in-space servicing economy, and their missions and timelines mesh well.
Spaceium is working on the problems of refueling, charging, and debris storage, and designing a prototype with a modular architecture to launch next year. The Exploration Company, often just called TEC, has designed a vehicle called Nyx, targeting a demo flight in 2024, designed to gas up between months-long trips around Earth or the Moon.
The partnership: Spaceium and The Exploration Company announced this morning that they have signed a bilateral letter of intent to demonstrate cryogenic refueling using Nyx and the planned orbiting service station.
- The station would be stocked with cryogenic bio-methane and oxygen.
- The two companies have also agreed to use Nyx as a host for a servicing module in 2026.
TEC also announced Tuesday that it signed an agreement with Axiom Space to use Nyx to supply a cargo mission to Axiom's planned space station.
No date is announced in the source article on Payload, but I think it would be optimistic to think this could be operating by 2025 and '26 may be more realistic. Looking at a website, it can be hard to figure out what's real and what's a rendering or "artist's conception." I'm not convinced there's actual hardware anywhere.