Intelsat’s Intelsat 901 satellite has been returned to service after docking with Northrop Grumman’s Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV-1) in the first time that two commercial spacecraft docked in geostationary orbit, giving the old satellite a new lease on life.
Northrop Grumman, which produced the MEV-1 together with SpaceLogistics, said the MEV-1 docked on 25 February. Since then, the MEV-1 has assumed navigation of the combined spacecraft stack, and relocating IS-901 to its new orbital location. Intelsat then transitioned roughly 30 of its commercial and government customers to the satellite on 2 April.
Intelsat views life-extension services, like MEV technology, as a cost-effective and efficient way to minimize service disruptions, enhance the overall flexibility of its satellite fleet and better support the evolving needs of its customers, Northrop Grumman said.
“Intelsat is proud to have pioneered this innovative first with Northrop Grumman,” said Intelsat Chief Services Officer Mike DeMarco.
“This historic event, highlighted by the first in-orbit rendezvous and docking of two commercial satellites and the subsequent repositioning of the two-spacecraft stack, demonstrates the business value that MEV offers to customers,” said Tom Wilson, vice president, Northrop Grumman Space Systems and president, SpaceLogistics. “Now that MEV-1 has successfully delivered on its mission to place the Intelsat 901 satellite back into operational service, we will continue to pioneer the future of on-orbit servicing through our multi-year technology roadmap leading to additional services such as inspection, assembly and repair.”
Under the terms of the contract, Northrop Grumman and SpaceLogistics will provide five years of life extension services to IS-901 before returning the spacecraft to a final decommissioned orbit. MEV-1 will then be available to provide additional mission extension services for new clients including orbit raising, inclination corrections and inspections. Intelsat has already also contracted with Northrop Grumman for a second MEV (MEV-2) to service Intelsat 1002 satellite later this year.
The historic docking promises to limit ‘space junk’ or orbital debris by keeping older satellites active.