At the end of February a ‘Space Tug’ built by Northrop Grumman successfully locked onto an Intelsat satellite that was close to running out of fuel.
The ‘Mission Extension Vehicle, MEV-1, mated with Intelsat’s IS-901 while the pair were orbiting a couple of hundred miles above the usual geostationary orbital arc. IS-901 had been in use for some 19 years.
MEV-1 was launched in October from Kazakhstan and after a four-month journey and following various tests was slowly drifted while in orbit to mate with the Intelsat craft. MEV-1 took over navigation of the combination and relocated IS-901 to a new orbital location, and Intelsat transitioned about 30 customers to the satellite on April 2nd.
A contract provides for Northrop and SpaceLogistics to provide five years of life extension service to IS-901 before returning it to a final decommissioned ’graveyard’ orbit. And then MEV-1 will be available to provide extension and rescue services for new clients.
This is the first time that a satellite has been ‘rescued’ in space since ‘Early Bird’, officially called Intelsat 1, was rescued by a Space Shuttle mission almost exactly 55 years ago.
Intelsat said: “In most cases our satellites lives end when they run out of propellant. Were it not for these fuel limitations, our satellites could operate even longer. With MEV technology, we decided to extend the life of the satellite by 5 years, which is significant. Not only do life-extension services minimise disruptions to our customers, but they also enhance the overall flexibility of our satellite fleet – the world’s largest and most advanced, which helps us better support our customers’ evolving needs.”
Intelsat says it plans on a second rescue mission with a new MEV later this year with Intelsat 1002.
“We predict MEV and in-orbit servicing technology will continue to serve as a valuable and cost-effective tool we use to repair and extend the life of our otherwise healthy, high-performing satellites to best serve our customers’ needs,” said an Intelsat statement.