Intelsat taps Orbital ATK’s MEV-1 to extend life of orbiting satellites
At the 2016 National Space Symposium held in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Orbital ATK announced that Intelsat had selected the firm to launch the first Commercial Servicing Vehicle (CSV) – the Mission Extension Vehicle-1 (MEV-1) – as soon as 2018. What this means is that if things go according to plan, the spacecraft could service and thereby extend the lives of satellites – thus reducing the need for new satellites to be launched.
Under this agreement, Intelsat will become the first customer for Orbital ATK’s spacecraft life-extension services. The first thing that Dulles, Virginia-based Orbital ATK has to do is to finish a series of on-orbit tests validating MEV-1’s design.
“We are delighted to partner with Intelsat to introduce this innovative new service to the commercial satellite market,” said David W. Thompson, Orbital ATK’s President and Chief Executive Officer. “The MEV-1 demonstrates the combined capabilities of Orbital ATK following the merger of our two legacy companies last year. The MEV-1 benefits from the capabilities in space logistics that both companies had developed. This new service is synergy at its best and presents an opportunity for Orbital ATK to open a new market in commercial space.”
Under this new agreement, Orbital ATK will manufacture, test, and launch MEV-1, which is expected to enter operational service in about three years time.
At present, no launch vehicle has been selected for the MEV-1 mission.
This contract is considered to be the first step in eventually fielding a fleet of similar spacecraft which would then carry out on-orbit extension, repair and servicing of an array of different satellites.
While it might seem like science fiction, this technology has been tested before at the International Space Station. As was noted in an article published on Space.com in 2011, NASA sent the Robotic Refueling Mission to the orbiting laboratory during STS-135 on Space Shuttle Atlantis in the summer of 2011.
“Rather than launching new satellites, operators can extend the life of healthy in-orbit satellites, providing enhanced flexibility through Orbital ATK’s scalable and cost-efficient capabilities. Our simple approach minimizes risk, enhances mission assurance, and enables our customers to realize the maximum value of their in-orbit satellite assets,” Tom Wilson, President of Space Logistics, LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Orbital ATK, said via a release issued by the company.
As noted, MEV-1 is currently slated to take to the skies in late 2018 where it will then demonstrate its skills as an on-orbit repairman on one of Intelsat’s satellites. Under this agreement, Intelsat has the option to service multiple satellites using the same MEV.
“There is a vital need to service fully functional but ageing satellites in both commercial and government markets. Backed by our continued investment, today’s announcement signals that we are just getting started in expanding our CSV fleet to provide a diverse array of in-space services in the future,” Thompson said.
It is hoped that this will be just the start of a revolution as to how spacecraft are launched and then serviced on-orbit; with several of these space-going servicing craft servicing GEO satellites and potentially repairing and assembling vehicles in space as well. For Intelsat, this is an important agreement, one that should serve to benefit the company’s on-orbit assets.
“Given the size of our satellite fleet, any technology that enhances our in-orbit flexibility allows us to be more responsive to our customers, such as extending the life of a healthy satellite so that it can be deployed for a late-breaking opportunity at another orbital location or maintaining service continuity before the arrival of new technology. We have actively supported in-orbit servicing from its inception, and are proud to pioneer with Orbital ATK on this game-changing innovation,” said Stephen Spengler, Chief Executive of Intelsat.
Intelsat acknowledged Orbital ATK’s decades-worth of experience in developing and manufacturing space hardware to include both spacecraft as well as launch systems through the statement that was issued.
“Orbital ATK is an established satellite manufacturer with the platform as well as the system and operational expertise to make this happen. We will break new ground together with this space rendezvous at 22,000 miles above the earth and I am already looking forward to the in-orbit servicing possibilities that future robotic technologies will enable,” Spengler said.
MEV-1 is based on Orbital ATK’s GEOStar spacecraft bus platform; the mission will be controlled by the aerospace firm’s satellite operations team. The spacecraft will utilize a docking system that interfaces with features commonly found on Intelsat (and other) satellites and it has an estimated design life of some 15 years. During that time, it should be able to carry out many dockings and undockings with satellites in need of its services.
“With this first contract for satellite life extension we are creating a new and very real market for space logistics,” said Frank Culbertson, President of Orbital ATK’s Space Systems Group. “Orbital ATK is already a leader in the emerging space logistics market through our commercial cargo delivery to the International Space Station, our participation in NASA’s Tipping Point program and our work in designing a bus for the asteroid robotic retrieval mission. The contract with Intelsat builds on our leadership position and we are ready to introduce even more space logistics capabilities and services for commercial and government customers alike.”
Video courtesy of Orbital ATK
Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.