On February 25th a Northrop Grumman-built ‘Mission Extension Vehicle’ (MEV) successfully mated with Intelsat 901 and performed a Space Tug rescue mission, and gave the potential zombie satellite another five years of valuable life in orbit.
The move seems to have impressed the US Government’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) which has selected Northrop Grumman as its official partner for future robotic servicing missions in space.
The DARPA/Northrop agreement will see DARPA supply the robotic payload which has been developed by the US Naval Research Laboratory and in essence comprises a pair of robotic arms, plus other tools and sensors, to help it achieve a mating with its target satellite to be rescued.
The agreement comes after a somewhat tortuous route given that the contract was first awarded to Space Systems/Loral back in 2017 against fierce competition from the then Orbital ATK. Orbital ATK was acquired by Northrop while in January 2019, Maxar Technologies – which had bought Space Systems/Loral – exited the DARPA contract.
The new contract is part of DARPA’s Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) programme and reflects a $64 million budget for this year’s activity.