Northrup Grumman has successfully docked a ground-breaking mission extension vehicle to an Intelsat communications satellite.
The Mission Extension Vehicle-1 (MEV-1) was developed by SpaceLogistics LLC, a subsidiary of Northrup Grumman. It was launched aboard a Russian Proton-M rocket along with Eutelsat 5WB on September 30, 2019.
After being successfully deployed, MEV-1 rendezvoused with Intelsat 901 (IS-901) which had been raised approximately 290 kilometres above a geosynchronous orbit. On February 26, Northrup Grumman confirmed that the MEV-1 had successfully docked with the IS-901 satellite. The pair will now be put through a series of on-orbit checkouts before MEV-1 returns the communications satellite to an operational geosynchronous orbit.
Under the terms of the contract between Northrup Grumman and Intelsat, MEV-1 will provide five years of “life extension services”. Following this five-year period, the vehicle will be used to raise IS-901 to a final decommissioning orbit.
Northrup Grumman has stated that MEV-1 is capable of offering up to 15 years of “life extension services.” As a result, once the vehicle has completed its mission with IS-901, it will be undocked and reused to extend the life of one or several more satellites.
Although itself ground-breaking, MEV-1 is just the first step of Northrup Grumman’s plans to offer a range of on-orbit services. The company plans to eventually have a fleet of these vehicles in orbit offering life extension services, inclination changes, spacecraft inspections and other in-orbit repair and assembly capabilities.
“Our Mission Extension Vehicle provides an innovative, satellite life extension service,” said Tom Wilson, president, SpaceLogistics LLC. “Together, Northrop Grumman, SpaceLogistics LLC and Intelsat have taken the first step in pioneering in-space logistics services for both commercial and government customers.”
Combating space junk
With the ability to extend the life of satellites in orbit, the MEV has the potential to be a game-changing technology in combating the evergrowing threat of space junk.
In many instances, satellites run out of fuel long before becoming obsolete. This results in not only an unnecessary financial burden for the operator but also the addition of one more dead satellite in orbit with the potential to cause catastrophic damage.
In addition to extending the life of one or several satellites in orbit, the MEV technology could also be used to ferry obsolete satellites into a destructive orbit. The combination of these abilities makes the MEV a potentially ground-breaking tool to combat some of the biggest challenges faced in the push to responsibly manage space.