Intelsat orbital comms satellite is back online after first robo-recovery mounting and tug job gets it back into position

No fuel, no problem! Older space kit to gets new lease of life with extentions


The first mission that flew a spacecraft out to save an old telecoms satellite running low on fuel has been successful.

The recovery quest by MEV-1, a Mission Extension Vehicle probe developed by Northrop Grumman to fix the Intelsat 901 comms satellite, now has the bird up and running again.

Launched in 2001, Intelsat 901 supports satellite television and internet communications to countries on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, and ships in between them. In December 2019, customers relying on the ailing hunk of metal were transferred to other Intelsat satellites and it was booted to a “graveyard orbit,” where defunct satellites are placed to avoid interfering with other functioning kit.

Grumman’s spacecraft arrived in February this year. It attached itself to the Intelsat 901 and used its electric propulsion modules to drag the satellite back into a geosynchronous orbit.

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Now, the satellite has been given a new lease of life and can maintain its communications with Earth for at least another five years. Its previous 30 customers have now been transferred back to the satellite and all systems are in the pipe, five by five.

This is the first time that two commercial spacecrafts have docked in orbit for this purpose, and could extend the life of many other satellites. The MEV-1 has a grappling mechanical system that attached to Intelsat 901 and then used its engines to take over the satellite’s attitude and orbital maintenance.

“This historic event, highlighted by the first in-orbit rendezvous and docking of two commercial satellites and the subsequent repositioning of the two-spacecraft stack, demonstrates the business value that MEV offers to customers,” said Tom Wilson, vice president, Northrop Grumman Space Systems and president, SpaceLogistics, LLC, a Grumman subsidiary.

“Now that MEV-1 has successfully delivered on its mission to place the Intelsat 901 satellite back into operational service, we will continue to pioneer the future of on-orbit servicing through our multi-year technology roadmap leading to additional services such as inspection, assembly and repair.”

Northrop Grumman and SpaceLogistics are planning a second satellite servicing mission to repair the Intelsat 1002, another telecoms bird, later this year. ®

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