Orbital ATK unveils new satellite-servicing technology
During the recent SATELLITE 2018 Conference and Expo, aerospace company Orbital ATK introduced two new in-orbit satellite servicing products: the Mission Robotic Vehicle (MRV) and Mission Extension pods (MEPS). These new products will join the company’s Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV) to create a suite of in-orbit satellite servicing technologies capable of extending the life of existing satellites.
The MEP is an external propulsion module that attaches to an aging satellite that is low on fuel and provides up to five years of additional life in orbit. Once installed, the MEP is controlled by the customer via a self-contained C or Ku band telemetry and command system.
The primary mission of the MRV spacecraft is to transport and install MEPs and other payloads to customer satellites. The MRV can also provide space robotic capabilities for in-orbit repairs and other functions. Orbital ATK’s SpaceLogistics subsidiary will operate the new system, with its launch currently scheduled for 2021.
“The introduction of MEPs allows us to offer a complementary service alongside our MEVs to meet the industry’s needs by providing low-risk, low-cost station-keeping for geosynchronous satellites of all types,” said Tom Wilson, President of SpaceLogistics via a release. “We always aimed to expand our fleet to provide a wide variety of space logistics services, and the MEV, MEP and MRV products give our customers the option to select exactly the kind of life extension or in-space repair they may need.”
Both of the new products are meant to leverage design elements of the MEV, Orbital ATK’s initial satellite servicing spacecraft. The MEV is based on the company’s GEOStar-3 Bus which has been modified to allow it to safely dock with another satellite in geosynchronous orbit. Modifications include an integrated sensor suite and a mechanical docking mechanism which is compatible with about 80 percent of all geosynchronous satellites currently in orbit.
Once it has docked, the MEV will control attitude and orbital maintenance of the linked spacecraft to meet the pointing and station keeping needs of the customer. When the service is no longer required, the MEV will undock and move on to the next satellite which requires servicing. The MEV can dock and undock several times during its expected 15 year lifetime.
Orbital ATK is currently working on the production of its first two MEVs. MEV-1 is scheduled to launch in late 2018, with MEV-2 set to lift off in early 2020. Commercial communications satellite services provider Intelsat is the initial customer of the first two MEVs.
SpaceLogistics has a long-range plan to develop a product line of in-orbit servicing spacecraft can provide a variety of space logistics services including repair, assembly and transportation through space. The company is also working with U.S. government agencies to develop and implement new capabilities for the fleet of MEV spacecraft. These capabilities may include next-generation repair and life extension spacecraft, on-orbit assembly of large structures and providing cargo delivery services to deep space gateways in lunar and Martian orbits.
Video courtesy of Orbital ATK
Jim Sharkey is a lab assistant, writer and general science enthusiast who grew up in Enid, Oklahoma, the hometown of Skylab and Shuttle astronaut Owen K. Garriott. As a young Star Trek fan he participated in the letter-writing campaign which resulted in the space shuttle prototype being named Enterprise. While his academic studies have ranged from psychology and archaeology to biology, he has never lost his passion for space exploration. Jim began blogging about science, science fiction and futurism in 2004. Jim resides in the San Francisco Bay area and has attended NASA Socials for the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover landing and the NASA LADEE lunar orbiter launch.