An Updated Propellant Depot Taxonomy

After way too many years in the wilderness, the concept of orbital propellant depots and in-space refueling in general, are finally beginning to be taken seriously again in public circles. A couple of examples include: Elon’s announcement that he is building his Mars architecture around RLVs and propellant depots, NASA’s baselining of in-space refueling as part of their Artemis lunar return program, even the most recent NASA Tipping Points solicitation1 had Cryogenic Fluid Management Technology Demonstration (active cooling, transfer, and pressure management) as one of its three topics. There are also now several startups out there explicitly focused on orbital propellant depots including my friends at OrbitFab, my friend Dallas Bienhoff’s company Cislunar Space Development Company, and also my startup, Altius Space Machines2.

Those of you who’ve been following this blog over the years have probably seen a lot of my previous thoughts on the topic. But I’ve been realizing that there are now a lot of new people becoming interested in the topic, and during some recent conversations on Twitter, I realized that it might be helpful to share some of my thoughts on the different types of propellant depots, and key considerations for each type of depot (things like where you’d likely put them, what sort of propellants they’d likely contain, how big they’d likely be, what you’d use them for, etc).

Instead of doing what I often do, and trying to cram six blog posts into one, I’m going to release a series of blog posts over the next week or two about the six main types of orbital propellant depots I’ve been able to think of so far3:

  • Distributed LEO Nano-Depots
  • GEO Depots
  • Smallsat Launcher Refueling Depots
  • Human Spaceflight Fixed Depots (Low-Orbit)
  • Human Spaceflight Fixed Depots (High-Orbit)
  • Human Spaceflight Tankers/Roving Depots

I’m sure there are probably more categories than that, but I figured that it was worth at least sharing some of my thoughts about these different types of depots, and their similarities and differences.

Next Up: An Updated Propellant Depot Taxonomy Part II: Distributed LEO Nano-Depots

The following two tabs change content below.
Jonathan Goff

Jonathan Goff

President/CEO at Altius Space Machines
Jonathan Goff is a space technologist, inventor, and serial space entrepreneur who created the Selenian Boondocks blog. Jon was a co-founder of Masten Space Systems, and is the founder and CEO of Altius Space Machines, a space robotics startup in Broomfield, CO. His family includes his wife, Tiffany, and five boys: Jarom (deceased), Jonathan, James, Peter, and Andrew. Jon has a BS in Manufacturing Engineering (1999) and an MS in Mechanical Engineering (2007) from Brigham Young University, and served an LDS proselytizing mission in Olongapo, Philippines from 2000-2002.
  1. STMD’s Tipping Points solicitations are focused on using NASA/industry public/private partnerships to get key technologies across the “tipping point”, via ground or flight demonstration, where they are now commercially viable or ready to infuse into NASA missions without needing additional NASA technology investment
  2. We tell people that while our first horizon goal is ubiquitous LEO satellite servicing, that our second horizon goal is propellant depots
  3. After I’ve written them, I’ll add links to them from this opening blog post
Jonathan Goff

About Jonathan Goff

Jonathan Goff is a space technologist, inventor, and serial space entrepreneur who created the Selenian Boondocks blog. Jon was a co-founder of Masten Space Systems, and is the founder and CEO of Altius Space Machines, a space robotics startup in Broomfield, CO. His family includes his wife, Tiffany, and five boys: Jarom (deceased), Jonathan, James, Peter, and Andrew. Jon has a BS in Manufacturing Engineering (1999) and an MS in Mechanical Engineering (2007) from Brigham Young University, and served an LDS proselytizing mission in Olongapo, Philippines from 2000-2002.
This entry was posted in Commercial Space, ISRU, Lunar Commerce, Lunar Exploration and Development, Mars, NASA, Orbital Dynamics, Propellant Depots, Space Development, Space Exploration, Space Transportation, Venus. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *