‘Space Tugs’ Could Refuel Satellites and Spacecraft in Orbit

Innovative new startup has a vision to build gas stations in orbit to refuel spacecraft and satellites.

The Cislunar Space Development Company (CSDC) has an innovative concept to solve fuel costs in space: refuel spacecraft in orbit.

At the heart of the company’s engineering concept is separating oxygen and hydrogen from water to be used as a propellant—all done while in orbit. Water would be transported from the planet’s surface to a propellant depot, a production facility that would convert the water to liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen, which could be used as fuel. Reusable space tugs would then take the propellant out to refuel satellites and spacecraft in geosynchronous orbit. The space tugs could also relocate satellites, remove space debris, provide initial boost to interplanetary missions and serve the adventure travel industry.

“Once we put something up in space, we should never get rid of it. We should continue to use it,” said Dallas Bienhoff, CSDC’s founder.

CSDC’s concept extends beyond space tugs, including reusable landers that could make a permanent presence on the moon more affordable and quickly achievable.

“I think we need in-space transportation and in-space infrastructure if we are going to go anywhere — if we are going to go to the moon permanently or if we are going to go to Mars permanently,” Bienhoff said.

This concept could work in tandem with NASA’s platform to launch astronauts and hardware into space, which uses the Space Launch System as well as heavy rockets by companies such as SpaceX and United Launch Alliance. NASA’s mandate is to be a facilitator of technological development and exploration.

CSDC would operate as a commercial NASA that enables economic exploration of space.

“I’m out to offer commercial activities for those who can’t use Space Launch System,” Bienhoff said. “You can do the same missions with depots and tugs,” he said.

He claims his concept is ready to be tested and is currently enlisting space companies to help make his vision a reality. He believes the concept is ready for a systems requirements review, followed by the design process and the build process, and is looking for funding partners.

The Space Shuttle introduced the concept of reusable space transportation in 1981. Bienhoff believes it will be increasingly important in the race to the stars. According to him, “reusability is coming into the launch business. Reusability needs to move into the in-space business.”

Read more about developments in orbital and lunar technologies at Miniature Rover to Search for Water on the Moon.