Northrop Grumman spacecraft makes historic dock with active Intelsat satellite

The Northrop Grumman MEV-2 craft achieved the first-ever snatch of an active satellite.

Image by Intelsat

Aerospace history was made earlier this week when a Northrop Grumman MEV-2 spacecraft successfully with an active satellite still in orbit. The successful pairing will ensure that the eighteen-year-old satellite can stay in service for up to five more years.

The industry-first was ultimately the product of a partnership between Northrop Grumman and Intelsat, who run the satellite. The Intelsat IS-10-02 is nearly eighteen years old and has been operating well past its expected duty cycle. The Northrop Grumman-built spacecraft MEV-2 will add another five years of life to IS-10-02 and re-fuel the satellite. The mission also provided a new control engine.

This week’s accomplishment will likely lead to further missions to service orbiting satellites. “Today’s successful docking of our second Mission Extension Vehicle further demonstrates the reliability, safety, and utility of in-space logistics,” Tom Wilson, vice president of Northrop Grumman’s strategic space systems said in a statement. “The success of this mission paves the way for our second generation of servicing satellites and robotics, offering flexibility and resiliency for both commercial and government satellite operators, which can enable entirely new classes of missions.”

Prior to this week, the servicing of active satellites has been limited to manned space missions. Using unmanned aerial vehicles such as the MEV-2 will increase safety and reduce potential waste. Northrop’s MEV-1 craft completed a mission last year that saw it dock with a decommissioned Intelsat satellite that was in dead orbit. It was largely a dry run for the job MEV-2 accomplished.

Contributing Tech Editor

Chris Jarrard likes playing games, crankin' tunes, and looking for fights on obscure online message boards. He understands that breakfast food is the only true food. Don't @ him.

From The Chatty
  • reply
    April 12, 2021 6:10 PM

    Chris Jarrard posted a new article, Northrop Grumman spacecraft makes historic dock with active Intelsat satellite

    • reply
      April 12, 2021 7:11 PM

      Worked for their IT division department right out of college. Good company.

    • reply
      April 12, 2021 8:54 PM

      "Aerospace history was made earlier this week when a Northrop Grumman MEV-2 spacecraft successfully with an active satellite still in orbit."

      Missing a word, I think.

      This is pretty cool. I wonder what sorts of challenges they had to overtime.

    • reply
      April 12, 2021 10:06 PM

      This is huge for the satellite industry. Cool article!

    • reply
      April 12, 2021 10:10 PM

      Hopefully they're building in resources and mechanisms to de-orbit satellites this way so we can declutter space a bit. With space launch being cheaper and space getting more crowded some resources can be committed to clearing it up some.

      • reply
        April 12, 2021 10:17 PM

        Northrop Grumman's MEVs are the company's first line of robotic satellite-servicing spacecraft, but they are just the tip of the iceberg for what it has planned, Anderson said today.

        For MEV-2, the spacecraft will stay in orbit attached to IS-10-02 for five years, helping to keep it "alive," and functioning in orbit. At the end of this five-year contract, the craft will be available to jet off to another satellite and dock. Both MEV-1 and MEV-2 are capable of working with multiple satellites in their lifetimes, Anderson said.

        In 2024, however, Northrop Grumman will take things a step further by launching Mission Extension Pods (MEPs), which the company is developing currently. MEPs will also provide life extension services to satellites — Northrop Grumman plans to install these pods on both commercial and government satellites using its Mission Robotic Vehicle (MRV), which is being developed to repair, change, assemble and inspect satellites in orbit.

        These upgrades and new technologies come from a robotic servicing mission award awarded last year to Grumman by DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency).

        Going forward, Northrop Grumman projects that starting in 2025 they will begin refueling satellites in orbit and removing orbital debris from nearby "high value" satellites, Anderson said.

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