The MEV-2 satellite servicer from Northrop Grumman safely docked with the Intelsat’s in-orbit 10-02 spacecraft on April 12. At 1:34 p.m. Eastern, the maneuver was accomplished, making this the very first time a spacecraft servicer has docked with an operational commercial satellite in the geosynchronous orbit (GEO). The dual spacecraft will remain locked together for a period of five years to prolong the existence of IS-10-02, which has been in orbit since 2004 and is running low on fuel. MEV-2 would then detach from the dock and embark on a new mission.
“The performance of this project opens the path for our second wave of servicing satellites as well as robotics, which will allow completely new groups of missions for commercial as well as government satellite operators,” stated Tom Wilson. He works as the vice president in charge of the strategic space systems at the Northrop Grumman. IS-10-02 supports Intelsat subscribers in the Middle East, Europe, Africa, as well as South America with telecommunications and media delivery networks. Since early March, MEV-2 has been operating in near proximity with the spacecraft, coming close enough to calibrate and evaluate systems before backing off.
On several occasions in the last month, the two firms have come near to docking. Last year, MEV-1, the satellite servicer’s precursor, successfully connected to some other Intelsat satellite, IS-901, raising it out of the GEO graveyard orbit and returning it to operation on April 2, 2020. “Space servicing is a critical asset for Intelsat in expanding the high-quality service experience which our customers rely on,” stated Mike DeMarco, the Intelsat chief services officer.
“Northrop Grumman’s MEV technology has enabled us to prolong the lives of two high-performing satellites while concentrating our engineering resources on Intelsat next-generation network – it’s a ‘win-win’ for us.” Northrop was given a contract by the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) last year to build a particular-purpose robotic vehicle (MRV).
The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has chosen SpaceLogistics LLC, a fully owned company of Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC), as its commercial collaborator for the agency’s Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) initiative. The first-ever industrial robotic servicing spaceship will be launched as part of the project, which seeks to extend the demand for satellite operation of both commercials as well as government customer satellites using advanced robotics technologies. Improved technologies such as in-orbit maintenance, augmentation, assembly, comprehensive evaluation, and relocation of the client satellites are among the program’s goals. In addition to migrating satellites, Northrop stated the MRV would fly in 2024 to perform maintenance and other in-orbit facilities. The MRV would be used to mount project extension pods (MEPs) that Northrop is designed to help aging satellites last longer.