In a triumph for the burgeoning “satellite service” industry, an obsolete communications satellite has been put back into service in geostationary orbit.
Northrop Grumman announced Friday that its Mission Extension Vehicle-1, or MEV-1, has recovered the Intelsat 901 satellite and moved it to a position to resume operations.
“We are seeing increasing demand for our connectivity services around the world, and preserving our customers’ experience using innovative technology like MEV-1 helps us meet that need,” said Intelsat Chief Services Officer Mike DeMarco in a statement. press release.
After launching on a Proton rocket last October, Northrop Grumman’s maintenance vehicle used its mechanical docking system to click on Intelsat 901 on February 25, at an altitude of 36,000 km above Earth. Before that, there had never been two commercial spacecraft docked in orbit.
Since then, the MEV-1 servicer has taken on the navigation of the combined spacecraft, reducing the satellite’s inclination by 1.6 degrees and moving it to a new orbital location, 332.5° east. Intelsat then transitioned about 30 of its commercial and government customers to satellite two weeks ago. The transition of the service took about six hours and was successful.
Under the agreement between Northrop and Intelsat, MEV-1 will provide life-extending services to the satellite for five years before launching it into graveyard orbit. MEV-1 will then be available to provide additional mission expansion services, Northrop said, including runway elevation, slope corrections and inspections. Northrop is already building a second MEV to serve another Intelsat 1002 satellite later this year.
This milestone for satellite maintenance comes as both low-Earth orbit and geostationary space — where large, expensive communications satellites are often placed high above the planet to maintain their position above the ground — are becoming increasingly crowded. The availability of a service such as that offered by MEV-1 gives satellite providers the opportunity not only to extend the life of obsolete assets, but also to remove from the ground the assets over which they have lost control.
These kinds of services are generally seen in the space community as important to keep the orbit as clean as possible for decades to come, so it’s good that this demonstration case worked out well.
List image by Northrop Grumman