External Tank Fuel Station


The idea of boosting the external tank of the Space Shuttle to a stable low earth orbit has been considered for many years. A business plan for an operating Tank Farm was presented by Taylor[i]. Many of the ideas there are adopted here, but the plan is set within the context of the staged development of Space infrastructure. The Refueling business provides the motivation for a fuel collection depot, to be assembled from STS main tanks, or large ESA / Russian rocket parts. This is the precursor to the long-discussed External Tank (ET) Space Station. Again, this business poses considerable hazards and business risk. At its initial stage, it appears advisable to separate the fuel depot function from the manufacturing / habitat functions, in view of the risk. In the shorter term, the limited lifetime of fuel tanker vehicles, the high cost of extracting fuel from expendable launchers, and the construction cost of the tank farm, make a difficult business. In the long term, as launcher designs are modified to take advantage of this business, these costs come down.


2500 kg of fuel per ET

Mass-10000 kg

Revenue: $8000/kg of fuel


Development Cost - $800M

Maintenance - $10M

Operation - $10M/ service

Transportation (to retrieve fuel from ET) - $6000 per kg



Launch Costs determined by $26,000/kg to GEO (source:  Futron[ii] , $13,000/kg to LEO)

Revenue starts decreasing by 5%, 13 years after start of company.





[i] Taylor, T.C., "Commercial Operations For The External Tank In Orbit". AAS 80-089. In McLucas and Sheffield, "Commercial Operations in Space 1980-2000", 18th Goddard Memorial Symposium, AAS Volume 51, Science and Technology Series, American Astronautical Society, 1981.

[ii]Futron Corporation. Space Transportation Costs: Trends in Price Per Pound to Orbit 1990-2000. 6 September

2002. 22 August 2006. http://www.futron.com/pdf/FutronLaunchCostWP.pdf  Viewed Aug. 23, 2006.