SwRI to Build Refueling Prototype for Astroscale

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Insider Brief:

  • Southwest Research Institute has been selected to build and test a small demonstration spacecraft as part of a Space Mobility and Logistics prototyping project.
  • The project is funded by the US Space Force and is being led by Astroscale U.S.
  • The vehicle is scheduled to launch in 2026.
  • Image credit: SwRI

 

Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) has been selected to build and test a small demonstration spacecraft as part of a Space Mobility and Logistics (SML) prototyping project. The $25.5 million project is being funded by the U.S. Space Force and is being led by Astroscale U.S. as announced by SwRI. The spacecraft will be called the Astroscale Prototype Servicer for Refueling (APS-R) and will be capable of refuelling compatible vehicles while in geostationary orbit.

According to SwRI Staff Engineer, Steve Thompson, the project’s systems engineer, running out of fuel is a common issue for spacecraft in Earth orbit. When they have used up all their fuel, their mission ends, even if the vehicle is still in good condition. A refuelling vehicle can extend the lifetime of these spacecraft and their missions by providing them with additional fuel.

The APS-R will operate in geostationary orbit, carrying hydrazine propellant from a depot to spacecraft that need refueling. It can service any spacecraft with a compatible refueling port, providing a flexible alternative to other life extension approaches, such as using thrusters to move a spacecraft.

SwRI will construct the host vehicle for the APS-R in their new 74,000-square-foot Space System Spacecraft and Payload Processing Facility over the next 16 months. This facility was created to meet customers’ rapid design, assembly, and spacecraft testing needs, particularly with small satellites.

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The APS-R will have a maximum size of 24-by-28-by-45 inches when stowed for launch and a total launch mass of 437 pounds, including propellant. Once the host spacecraft bus is complete, SwRI will integrate the Astroscale-supplied payload and perform system-level environmental testing to prepare the vehicle for launch, which is scheduled for 2026.

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