18 Apr 2021: Northrop Grumman's MEV-2 life-extender successfully coupled with an active satellite
In an industry-first development that could potentially increase the active service life of satellites, renowned aerospace and defense technology company Northrop Grumman successfully docked a life-extension vehicle to an operational satellite.
The company's Mission Extension Vehicle-2 (MEV-2) would add around five years of life to Intelsat's IS-10-02 communications satellite. The latter was nearing the end of its service life after 18 years in operation.
Lease of life: MEV-2 gave Intelsat's IS 10-02 a five-year service life extension
The IS-10-02 was low on fuel and soon to be decommissioned. It had already exceeded its intended service life by five years.
The MEV-2 is a product of the upcoming on-orbit service, assembly, and manufacturing industry.
It was launched in August to match Intelsat's geosynchronous orbit. Docked with the IS-10-02, it effectively became the satellite's spare engine with a full load of fuel.
Fact: Northrop Grumman's spokesperson explained how MEV-2 attached to IS-10-02
The spokesperson said that the MEV-2 had a probe that was inserted into the throat of the client satellite's liquid apogee engine. The probe is then retracted, pulling three stanchions up against the launch adaptor ring, securely clamping the two vehicles together.
Piggybacking: Risky coupling process could have thrown IS-10-02 out of orbit
The spokesperson reportedly compared the MEV-2 to a jetpack for the client satellite. Its coupling system is compatible with around 80 percent of all operational satellites, the spokesperson added.
MEV-2 will spend five years attached to this satellite, before it disengages and possibly identifies another dying satellite to help.
MEV-2's challenging coupling process risked disrupting the target satellite's orbit, consequently compromising the latter's operability.
Huge savings: OSAM industry could save satellite operators millions of dollars
Graduating from servicing dead satellites to working on operational ones is a big step forward for the OSAM industry.
Highlighting the advantages of orbital servicing operations, TechCrunch said that it saves satellite operators millions of dollars, possibly referring to the cost of replacing a dead satellite.
Additionally, we believe that the OSAM industry's efforts could reduce and eventually cease the generation of space junk.
In the future: Next step: OSAM satellite shouldn't need to piggyback for years
TechCrunch reports that the goal is to develop OSAM satellites that refuel other satellites without piggybacking on them for years on end.
Meanwhile, Northrop Grumman is developing robotic vehicles, expected to be launched in 2024. The vehicles would be able to perform in-orbit repair, assembly, and inspection.
The company's second technology would use these robotic vehicles to deliver "life-extending pods" to satellites, Engadget reports.