Intelsat’s IS-10-02 communications satellite was out of fuel – it’s been in orbit since 2004, after all, and is already five years past its original lifespan. Thanks to Northrop Grumman’s Mission Expansion Vehicle-2 (MEV-2), however, it has gained another five years of life and will remain operational instead of being decommissioned. MEV-2 was launched in August and has since been heading towards the geosynchronous orbiting satellite. On Monday, it caught up with its target and latched onto it to provide more fuel to the IS-10-02.
According to TechCrunch, a representative described the robotic spacecraft as a “10-02 satellite jetpack.” The spokesperson explained the docking process as follows:
“The MEV-2 docking system consists of a probe that we insert into the peak fluid motor on the back of a satellite. Almost 80% of the satellites in orbit have this functionality, allowing the SRM to serve a wide variety of customers. The liquid climax the motor acts as a “capture cone” to help guide the probe which, once it passes through the motor throat, expands to capture the client satellite. The probe is then retracted by pulling three stanchions, or feet, against the launch adapter ring, securely squeezing the two vehicles together. “
This Brands it was the first time that a Life Extension Services vehicle was able to dock with an active satellite at its operational GEO orbital location. The predecessor of the MEV-2, the MEV-1, fixed on Intelsat’s IS-901 last year. This satellite was already out of fuel and was docked out of its original orbit at that time. As TechCrunch Note, Northrop Grumman had to ensure that the approach of MEV-2 would not disrupt the operation and orbit of its target. In doing so, the aerospace company has proven that it is possible to serve active satellites, which means companies can potentially save millions by extending the life of their older space objects.
MEV-2 will stay with IS-10-02 before extending the life of another satellite. In addition to the SRM, the company is working on robotic vehicles capable of performing repairs, augmentations, assemblies and inspections in orbit. These vehicles will also be used to provide pods that extend the life of the satellites in order to extend the life of their mission without having to stay moored to their targets. Northrop Grumman hopes to launch these two technologies by 2024.