Northrop Grumman's space zombie slayer grants Intelsat 901 five more years in orbit

Mission Extension Vehicle to the rescue

Northrop Grumman's zombie satellite-slaying Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV) has docked to the Intelsat 901 satellite, potentially affording the latter a life extension.

It is the first time two commercial spacecraft have docked in orbit as well as the first time a geosynchronous satellite has had its mission extended in this way.

Launched back in October atop a Proton rocket and accompanied by a Eutelsat satellite, the goal of MEV-1 is to dock with soon-to-be-stricken satellites and take over attitude and orbit control, thus extending missions. The MEV can also send expired spacecraft into a graveyard orbit as well as potentially servicing multiple satellites during its anticipated 15-year lifespan.

At the time of launch, it was expected that it would take around three months for MEV-1 to reach the Intelsat 901 target. The latter, low on fuel, had been manoeuvred to the GEO graveyard orbit for the test, just in case things went a bit awry with this first demonstration.

Observers noted that MEV-1 had been flirting with the Intelsat 901 satellite over the last few days and weeks. Yesterday's capture (by attachment to 901's nozzle) was confirmed overnight.

The combined stack will now undergo checks before being returned to service in late March. The deal with Intelsat will see MEV-1 extending 901's life by five years before it sends the satellite to the decommissioning orbit and heads off to assist other client spacecraft, like some sort of A-Team in space. Just without the cabbage cannon.

The success bodes well for the next in the series, the imaginatively named MEV-2, which is due for launch later this year to service a different Intelsat satellite. While the MEV spacecraft has manoeuvring capabilities, orbital mechanics means a fleet of the things could be needed if customers decide a grappling from a MEV makes more economic sense than launching a new satellite. ®

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