According tomedia reports, as part of the pioneering satellite service mission, two commercial satellites are now in orbit docking. If the rest of the mission succeeds, it could revive a faulty communications satellite and could start an industry that prevents space junk from clogging up space.
“This is the first time in history that docking on a satellite that has not been pre-designed,” Joe Anderson, Vice President of Space Logistics, said in a press release. Space Logistics is a subsidiary of Northrop Grumman, which is responsible for the mission.
On February 25, Northrop Grumman’s Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV-1) successfully docked with intelsat 901, a communications satellite. After nearly 19 years of space exploration, Intelsat 901 has run out of fuel. If nothing is done, people on the ground will lose the ability to actively control satellites. So a few years ago, Intelsat decided to sign a mission to extend the life of its ailing satellite by another five years by sending another satellite.
The MEV-1 was launched in October 2019 and took about three months to reach Intelsat 901. These satellites meet in so-called “graveyard orbits” — where end-of-life satellites are placed — so they don’t interfere with other satellites that are running. Now that the two are connected, MEV-1 will take over all manipulation and navigation. Sometime in March, it will move Intelsat 901 off the cemetery track to make it operational. About five years later, MEV-1 will move Intelsat 901 back into the cemetery orbit, where the communications satellite will be decommissioned. At that time, meV-1 may continue to serve another satellite.
The mission is an exciting milestone for the satellite industry, which has been working for years to maintain unmanned satellites. Doing so could save satellite companies a lot of money and potentially reduce the amount of space junk orbiting the Earth.
For now, Northrop Grumman has another mission, the MEV-2, which is expected to launch later this year and will also service one of Intelsat’s satellites. In addition, the company is still developing the next generation of satellite services. The service complex will feature a smaller mission expansion module designed to provide smaller repairs than MEV and will be deployed by robotic spacecraft.