Transfer of gaseous propellant in space is a critical technology for space exploration and for extending the useful life of satellites. A key component needed for in-space refueling is a compressor that can efficiently move gas from a resupply vehicle to the propellant storage vessel on board the receiver vehicle. High efficiency requires a very high pressure ratio, and operation on orbit requires that the compressor be compact, lightweight, and space worthy. We propose to develop a compact, high-pressure ratio compressor that meets these requirements. Our technology can efficiently transfer gas from a low-pressure supply vessel to a high-pressure receiver vessel using a highly reliable compression mechanism. In Phase I, we proved feasibility through demonstration testing of key components and materials, analysis and assessment of key design trade-offs, detailed conceptual design, and predictions of performance. In Phase II, we will build a prototype compressor and demonstrate operation under conditions that simulate propellant transfer in space.
NASA’s primary application is propellant transfer for space exploration. Resupply of xenon propellant for the Gateway space station will ultimately be developed by the Gateway Program and the Gateway Logistics Program Office. Transfer of helium pressurant gas for management of cryogenic propellant can support the recent Tipping Point programs awarded for cryogenic fluid management and managed through NASA’s Glenn Research Center, Marshall Space Flight Center, and Kennedy Space Center.
The main commercial application is refueling with gaseous propellant or recharging helium pressurant to extend satellite life, reduce costs, and enhance capabilities. Customers will be companies that build and operate spacecraft for in-space servicing, assembly, and maintenance of orbiting spacecraft. These companies include new commercial ventures as well as established aerospace primes.