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Intelsat to use ‘space tug’ to test orbital docking

Intelsat intends using a ‘Mission Extension Vehicle’ satellite being built by Orbital-ATK (MEV-1) to dock with an old satellite currently unused and outside the normal geostationary orbital arc.

Intelsat’s CEO Stephen Spengler told analysts last week that Intelsat is the debut customer for Orbital’s MEV-1, frequently described as a Space or Rescue Tug. “We have not specifically said what satellite we’re going to use it for. But given that it is the first MEV, we are going to be testing the docking with an old satellite outside the orbital arc and to verify its performance. And then we would move it over to an operational satellite and provide mission extension.”

“The objective here is twofold. First is to serve our customers and if we have an opportunity to extend the life of a particular satellite that has good health otherwise, besides running out of fuel. We will do that. It gives us the ability to extend revenues and services for customers, specifically for our wide beam services, where appropriate.”

Spengler added that the use of MEV-1 would “allow us to delay some CapEx which gives us the additional advantage of allowing innovation to continue and allow the replacement with the latest technology when we do. So, we are very supportive of not only Orbital ATK’s efforts in this regard, but others as well as we believe it’s an important part of the innovation in our sector and will allow us to be more CapEx-effective and efficient and also support our customers.”

Orbital’s MEV-1 satellite is due for launch on a Proton medium-power rocket (along with a Eutelsat satellite, Eutelsat 5 West-B) in “late 2018”.  Based on its own GEOStar spacecraft bus platform, MEV-1 utilizes a reliable, low-risk docking system that attaches to existing features on a customer’s satellite. MEV-1 will provide life-extending services by taking over the propulsion and attitude control functions. Satellites have an average of 15 years of life on orbit, before they need to be replaced.

The launch of MEV-1 will involve in-orbit testing and a demonstration to be performed with an Intelsat satellite, according to Orbital ATK. MEV-1 will then relocate to the Intelsat satellite scheduled for the mission extension service, which is planned for a five-year period. Intelsat will also have the option to service multiple satellites using the same MEV.

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