A spacecraft that is set to be the first to offer on-orbit satellite servicing was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan early yesterday.
The Proton-M rocket carrying the Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV) 1 was launched from Baikonur at 10:17 UTC (15:17 local time). Following a successful launch, the rocket’s Breeze M upper stage performed a series of 5 orbit-raising burns over the next 16 hours. With the completition of the fifth and final planned burn, MEV-1 and a second payload were deployed into a high-altitude elliptical supersynchronous transfer orbit.
The 2,330-kilogram MEV-1 will spend the next three and a half months under its own power to reach an orbit 300 kilometers above a geosynchronous orbit. At the same time, the Intelsat-901 communications satellite will raise its own orbit to meet MEV-1.
Once in range of Intelsat-901, MEV-1 will utilise multiple cameras, laser range-finders, and onboard computers to detect, track and dock with the communications satellite. The vehicle will utilise a docking mechanism inserted into the satellite’s apogee thruster to mechanically couple the two together.
The combined stack will then undergo several months of testing before returning back into the Intelsat-901 satellite’s geostationary orbit slot to resume its operational duties.
Intelsat has contracted Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems to extend the life of the 18-year-old Intelsat-901 satellite by five years utalising MEV-1. With a design life of at least 15 years, it is likely MEV-1 will conclude its mission with the communications satellite and move onto another. This, however, has not yet been confirmed by Northrop Grumman.
In addition to MEV-1, Intelsat has signed a contract with Northrop Grumman to supply a second vehicle to extend the life of an as yet unconfirmed satellite.