In Orbit Aerospace wins $1.8 million AFWERX contract

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SAN FRANCISCO – Los Angeles startup In Orbit Aerospace won a $1.8 million AFWERX contract to develop a novel method of spacecraft docking in partnership with the University of Colorado, Boulder.

The electrostatic adhesion technology being developing under the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) contract will enable In Orbit’s vehicles to dock with one another, Ishaan Patel, In Orbit chief technology officer, told SpaceNews.

In addition, the technology has applications for satellites seeking to rendezvous and dock with cooperative or uncooperative targets for refueling, debris removal or other services.

In Orbit Aerospace founders (from left) Ryan Elliott, Antonio Coehlo and Ishaan Patel pictured with a prototype of the company’s Retriever reentry vehicle. Credit: In Orbit Aerospace

Third Party Logistics

In Orbit was founded in 2020 to offer third-party logistics and infrastructure for in-space manufacturing and research. As part of that business, In Orbit plans to transport cargo to and from space stations.

With robotic systems and reentry vehicles, In Orbit intends to serve commercial customers exploring the benefits of microgravity for biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, semiconductors, fiber optics and other applications.

In Orbit Retriever reentry vehicles have government applications as well including point-to-point cargo delivery to contested regions on Earth, humanitarian aid and satellite servicing.  

The U.S. Space Force Space Systems Command Assured Access to Space and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory’s Space Vehicles Directorate supported In Orbit’s STTR proposal for technology that uses electroadhesion for spacecraft capture or docking.

In Orbit also is developing technology for autonomously sorting and transferring customer payloads between satellites and In Orbit’s Retrievers. Once a Retriever’s cargo bay is full, In Orbit will return it to Earth.

Testing Technology

In Orbit has completed a detailed design of the Retriever reentry vehicle, which it plans to build and test on the ground in 2024.

“We will launch that with our first customers onboard next year,” said Antonio Coelho, In Orbit chief operations officer.

Through a partnership with Voyager Space subsidiary Nanoracks, a prototype of In Orbit’s technology for sorting and exchanging payloads is scheduled to be tested on the International Space Station in 2025.

“On the ISS, we’ll be able to demonstrate its operation in a microgravity environment,” Coelho said. “Subsequent to that, we would incorporate it into our reentry vehicle for a mission in 2025 or 2026.”

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