Science & Technology

A robotic spacecraft just latched onto an active satellite in orbit

A robotic spacecraft from Northrop Grumman latched onto an previous communications satellite in deep orbit and prolonged its lifespan by 5 extra years. The Mission Extension Automobile-2 (MEV-2) marked Northrop’s second profitable docking of an object in house. The mission is a part of the corporate’s efforts to kickstart an business of life-extension companies for lifeless, dying or errant satellites.

MEV-2 from French Guiana in South America. It spent six months elevating its orbit to rendezvous with Intelsat’s 17-year-old communications satellite in geosynchronous orbit, greater than 22,000 miles from Earth. That satellite was operating out of gas and was getting previous; it had operated far past its anticipated lifespan whereas nonetheless offering broadband communications to a few continents.

On March twelfth, the MEV-2 craft began a month-long docking course of with the Intelsat satellite. Docking was accomplished and confirmed profitable by Northrop Grumman in the present day at 1:34PM ET. It “was each bit as thrilling and profitable because the docking of MEV-1,” Joe Anderson, vice chairman of enterprise improvement at SpaceLogistics, the Northrop subsidiary that launches MEVs, mentioned throughout a press convention on Monday. Now, Intelsat’s IS-10-02 satellite can keep it up beaming broadband communications to South America, Europe, Africa and the Center East.

final 12 months, a breakthrough in its objective to spruce up lifeless or dying satellites and save satellite operators the price of changing them altogether. Extending the lifetime of satellites additionally helps tamp down — a in orbit because the world launches document quantities of satellites to house every year. De-orbiting a satellite from geosynchronous orbit may take a long time.

The Northrop-Intelsat servicing contract was a “win-win state of affairs,” mentioned Jean-Luc Froeliger, a vice chairman at Intelsat, throughout a press convention on Monday. The IS-10-02 satellite was performing properly, Froeliger mentioned, however with out Northrop’s MEV-2, they might’ve needed to deorbit it as a result of it was operating low on gas.

MEV-2 is presently clamped to the again of IS-10-02, serving because the satellite’s life assist by offering renewed energy and navigation management. The 2 will function as a “mixed stack” for the subsequent 5 years. After that, MEV-2 will undock from IS-10-02 and set off to rendezvous with one other shopper satellite.

IS-10-02 will die after MEV-2 leaves. A firm spokeswoman mentioned the satellite will retire to a “graveyard orbit,” or the place in house the place previous satellites can flip into house junk with out getting in the way in which of youthful satellites.

Northrop can be constructing an upgraded satellite servicing system referred to as a Mission Robotic Automobile (or MRV). That spacecraft will meet up with getting old satellites to put in orbital first-aid kits referred to as Mission Extension Pods, designed to supply propulsion and energy. Every MRV can carry six pods. MRV’s debut launch is slated for early 2024, Anderson mentioned.

Replace Monday 7:10PM ET: This story was up to date so as to add Intelsat’s response to a query concerning the destiny of IS-10-02 after MEV-2 leaves. It can die.

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