- For the first time ever, two commercial spacecraft docked with each other while in orbit.
- One of the spacecraft, a communications satellite called Intelsat 901, had run out of fuel and been sent to the graveyard orbit.
- The recovery spacecraft, MEV-1 which launched in October, was designed to extend the communications satellite’s life by up to 15 years.
For the first time ever, two commercial satellites have successfully dock with each other while in orbit. Northrop Grumman’s Mission Extension Vehicle-1 and the communications satellite Intelsat 901 linked up with each other about 22,000 miles above Earth’s surface.
“Together, Northrop Grumman, SpaceLogistics LLC and Intelsat have taken the first step in pioneering in-space logistics services for both commercial and government customers,” SpaceLogistics president Tom Wilson, said in a statement.
In December 2019, Intelsat 901 began to run low on fuel after 18 years in service and was decommissioned and lofted into what's called a "graveyard orbit." Just 186 miles above geostationary orbit, the graveyard orbit and acts like a satellite purgatory, where decommissioned hardware safely orbit Earth without accidentally spiral into other, working satellites.
But Northrop Grumman designed MEV-1, launched on October 9, 2019, to revived the hobbled communications satellite, which it gone to work doing earlier this week. Ultimately, Northrop Grumman hopes to send a small fleet of these spacecraft into orbit to resuscitate dying satellites. MEV satellites are designed to dock with multiple spacecraft during their lifetime and extend the life of a given satellite up to 15 years. Once an MEV is attached, it can guide an ailing spacecraft through orbit, taking over its attitude, steering it in the right direction and even performing remedial maintenance tasks.
Intelsat 901 and MEV-1 will remain locked together for the duration of the communication satellite’s remaining five-year lifespan until MEV-1 eventually propels Intelsat 901 into its final orbit where it will return to service by March 1. Northrop Grumman is set to launch a similar rescue satellite, MEV-2, later in the year. That spacecraft is also slated to dock with an Intelsat satellite.
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