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Intelsat S.A. orders Mission Extension Vehicle 2 to increase life span of Intelsat spacecraft

In this artist's depiction the MEV-1 spacecraft, attached to a customer's satellite - extending its operational life. Image Credit: Nathan Koga / SpaceFlight Insider

In this artist’s depiction the MEV-1 spacecraft, attached to a customer’s satellite, and – extending its operational life. Image Credit: Nathan Koga / SpaceFlight Insider

Intelsat S.A. has awarded a contract for use of the second Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV-2) spacecraft. Produced by Orbital ATK, the MEVs provide mission extension services to satellites already on orbit and are slated to begin undertaking their tasks within the coming months.

MEV-1 is currently scheduled to be launched in late 2018. Image Credit: Orbital ATK

MEV-1 is currently scheduled to be launched in late 2018. Image Credit: Orbital ATK

“Work on MEV-1 is progressing rapidly toward a late 2018 launch with system-level testing beginning this spring,” said Tom Wilson, President of Orbital ATK’s Space Logistics, LLC subsidiary via a company-issued release. “With the launch of MEV-2, Orbital ATK will continue to pioneer in-space satellite servicing for commercial operators. Intelsat’s commitment to a second MEV demonstrates not only the market demand for our servicing vehicles, but also the customer’s confidence in our product.”

Dulles, Virginia-based Orbital ATK is currently in the process of producing MEV-1 which, like its sibling, is being readied to service a spacecraft that is already on orbit

If MEV-1 and 2 perform as planned, Orbital ATK hopes to increase the company’s spacecraft-servicing abilities by providing clients with capabilities that would otherwise leave those satellites dead on orbit. MEV-1 is currently scheduled to launch later this year (2018).

Under this arrangement, Orbital ATK is required to develop, test and launch MEV-2 with mission extension services beginning in mid-2020. Orbital ATK is working to produce a fleet of these spacecraft which will service satellites that have been damaged, need refueling or to be moved to a different location – the MEVs can provide all of these services. 

Normally, when a satellite reaches the end of its service life, it is either directed to a “graveyard orbit” or back into Earth’s atmosphere. When one considers the millions that each satellite costs, the concept of refurbishing these expensive vehicles and expanding their operational lives gains increased interest.

MEV is based off of Orbital ATK’s GEOStarTM spacecraft platform and is operated by the company. The MEV is designed to dock with these satellites and then provide life-extension services such as orbital maintenance and attitude control functions. The MEVs each have a planned design life of some 15 years. During that time, they are capable of carrying out numerous dockings and repositionings.

The MEVs are being developed, in part, with a NASA Space Act Agreement so as to provide new capabilities. The MEVs are being manufactured to provide clients with an array of previously unavailable services such as on-orbit repair, assembly, cargo delivery and more.

“Intelsat was an early proponent of the potential for mission extension technology,” said Ken Lee, Intelsat’s Senior Vice President, Space Systems via a release. “In-orbit life extension, such as that provided by our two contracts with Orbital ATK, provides additional flexibility to our fleet management, allowing us to direct capital to new satellites while continuing to generate economic value from satellites in orbit. We look forward to our continued collaboration with Orbital ATK on commercializing this important new service.” 




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,, The Mars Society and Universe Today.

Reader Comments

In his book “The Promise of Space”, Clarke talked about GEO space stations where technicians would service telecommunication satellites.

Sending wet workshops to Low Lunar Orbit (LLO) and filling up radiation shields with lunar water would be the first step in a cislunar infrastructure. Transiting those workshops back across the cislunar sea to GEO would establish a long duration human presence there allowing for comprehensive servicing of satellites.

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