An Intelsat satellite that is close to running out of fuel has been mated in orbit with a ‘Space Tug’ rescue vehicle.
The Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV-1) built by Northrop Grumman has successfully linked with Intelsat’s IS-901 satellite while the pair orbited in perfect synchronicity while more than 36,300 kms above the Equator and Atlantic Ocean.
The pair will stay linked for up to 5 years, and extend the life of IS-901 which other than a low fuel gauge is capable of working normally. IS-901 has already been in service for some 19 years.
The mating of the two craft was carried out a couple of hundred kilometres above the normal operation arc of other geostationary satellites to minimise collision problems. The pair will now be returned to a normal orbital position.
Once its current rescue mission is over the MEV will detach and move to another satellite that needs on-orbit servicing or rescue.
Tom Wilson, a vice president with Northrop Grumman Space Systems and president of SpaceLogistics LLC, said he also foresaw applications for the US space agency when it sent astronauts far beyond Earth.
“As Nasa goes beyond [the Moon] all the way out to Mars and explores the Solar System, there’s going to be the need to do all kinds of autonomous robotic missions – the ability to join vehicles together, to do rendezvous proximity operations, the ability to manufacture pieces or components that you didn’t know you needed. All this technology leads to those types of vehicles and services,” he told press.