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 @northropgrumman MEV-1 satellite has now been within 5 km of its Intelsat 901 target for over a week. The detailed wiggles in this noisy plot based on the TLEs are not real but it gives an overall idea that the two sats remain close pic.twitter.com/An0TwRFFV7— Jonathan McDowell (@planet4589) February 25, 2020
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. ®