For the First Time, This Spacecraft Brought an Aging Satellite Back to Life

Northrop Grumman's MEV-1 spacecraft brought an aging satellite back to life by executing the first-ever docking of two commercial vehicles in space.
Brad Bergan

In an industrial victory for the nascent "satellite servicing" sector, an aging communications satellite was put back into service — to geostationary orbit — according to a Northrop Grumman news release, reports Ars Technica.


Northrop Grumman repairs aging orbital satellite

Northrop Grumman declared its Mission Extension Vehicle-1 — also called MEV-1 — successfully restored to active status the Intelsat 901 satellite, after which it was relocated to a stable geostationary position on Friday, where it will resume operations.

"We see increased demand for our connectivity services around the world, and preserving our customers' experience using innovative technology such as MEV-1 is helping us meet that need," said Intelsat Chief Services Officer Mike DeMarco in the news release.

Following the launch aboard a Proton rocket in October 2019, Northrop Grumman's servicing vehicle used a mechanical docking system to latch onto Intelsat 901 on February 25, poised at a dizzying altitude of 36,000 kilometers (roughly 22,300 miles) above the surface of the Earth. This marks the first time two commercial spacecraft have ever docked in orbit.

Check out a series of images and clips of Northrop's MEV-1 mission with the Intelsat satellite, compiled by Ars Technica, below.

Future sorties sending satellites back into orbit

Since the historic docking, the MEV-1 servicer took control of the combined spacecraft stack's navigation and reduced the inclination of the satellite by 1.6 degrees, relocating the craft to a new orbital location, at 332.5º east. After this, Intelsat transitioned roughly 30 of its government and commercial customers to the satellite. The transition in service took roughly six hours and was a complete success, reports Ars Technica.

The agreement between Intelsat and Northrop stipulates that MEV-1 will support five years of life extension missions to the satellite before pushing it into a terminal graveyard orbit. Afterward, MEV-1 will be open for additional mission extension services, according to Northrop, which includes orbital raising sorties, inspections, and inclination corrections. Northrop is already manufacturing a second MEV to service a second Intelsat satellite, called 1002, later this year.

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