Two unmanned commercial satellites completed docking in space for the first time this week,media New Atlas reported. On February 25, Northrop Grumman’s Mission Extension Vehicle 1 (MEV-1) docked with the Intelsat 901 (IS-901) communications satellite 22,416 miles (36,076 km) above The Earth as part of a project to extend the life of a satellite with insufficient propellant.
The construction and launch of satellites is very expensive. Therefore, it would be frustrating to abandon very good spacecraft simply because they have run out of propellants that keep them in the right orbit and point to Earth. In response, scientists have come up with a number of solutions – in this case, Northrop’s MEV-1 is designed to match orbits with aging satellites, dock and take on the task of maintaining orbits and postures.
The MEV-1 was launched on October 9, 2019, and then carried out a series of orbital maneuvers to dock with IS-901 180 miles (290 kilometers) above geosynchronous orbit. The company said that after 19 years of service, the target communications satellite ceased service in December and that its customers had been transferred to other international satellite organizations.
The MEV-1 approaches the tail of the IS-901 and uses a tapered mechanism to capture the satellite and pull it in and dock it on the satellite’s now-defunct main thruster. The docking spacecraft is currently undergoing systematic inspections before the MEV-1 takes over attitude and orbit maintenance in March.
If the test is successful, the MEV-1 will remain docked for five years and then put the IS-901 into its final decommissioning trajectory. The MEV-1 will then dock and dock another aging satellite. Overall, the MEV-1 is expected to serve 15 years. Meanwhile, the MEV-2 is scheduled for launch in March 2020 and will coincide with another Intelsat satellite.
Eventually, Northrop Grumman and its subsidiary SpaceLogistics LLC plan to send a fleet of such boats that not only extend the life of the satellite, but also refuel, repair and assemble the spacecraft. “Our mission-extended aircraft provides innovative satellite life extension services,” said Tom Wilson, president of SpaceLogicLL LLC. Northrop Grumman, SpaceLogic LLC and Intelsat are taking the first step towards opening up space logistics services for commercial and government customers. “
The following video provides an overview of the MEV-1 task.