4 more years! Intelsat, Northrop Grumman extend satellite servicing contract

Mission Extension Vehicle to fuel up helpless but functional sats

Northrop Grumman has signed a four-year contract renewal with Intelsat to continue providing on-orbit extension services for satellites.

The extension will result in the geosynchronous satellite IS-10-02 ultimately gaining another nine years of life thanks to Northrop Grumman's Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV) 2. MEV-1 is currently docked with IS-901, which will be transported into a graveyard orbit. MEV-1 will then head off to assist another satellite.

MEV-1 was launched in 2019 and docked with IS-901 in 2020. In 2021, the Northrop Grumman team went further and sent MEV-2 to rendezvous with another Intelsat satellite, IS-10-02.

IS-10-02 was the first operational communications satellite to have years added to its service life by an MEV.

The purpose of the MEV program is to extend the life of satellites as they run out of fuel but are otherwise still operational.

It all seems to have gone very well, as evidenced by the contract extension announcement. The original contract was for five years, but the extension should result in IS-10-02 enduring until 2030 courtesy of MEV-2. Northrop Grumman did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding where MEV-1 might go after releasing IS-901 back into a graveyard orbit. An Intelsat spokesperson told us that the rendezvous would be in the 2025 - 2029 time frame.

According to reports in 2023, both spacecraft are, however, suffering from thruster problems.

The MEV carries enough fuel for a 15-year service life, although that figure depends on what the spacecraft is asked to do. According to Northrop Grumman's SpaceLogistics subsidiary, the docking mechanism is compatible with nearly 80 percent of all GEO satellites in orbit.

One obvious candidate for the technology is the Hubble Space Telescope. However, while an MEV-type spacecraft could conceivably rendezvous with the observatory for re-boost purposes, dealing with the failed and failing gyros would present a challenge.

Still, extending the life of existing satellites rather than launching replacements makes sense both from a sustainability and an economic perspective.

Jean-Luc Froeliger, SVP of Space Systems at Intelsat, said, "Intelsat continues to pursue first-of-their-kind innovations to extend the life of its satellites in orbit, while also bringing the industry together to foster information sharing and collaboration across a challenging regulatory environment to achieve sustainable stewardship of the resource of space." ®

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