Orbital ATK, a global leader in aerospace and defence technologies, announced on September 11, 2017, significant progress on the industry’s first commercial in-space satellite servicing system. The Mission Extension Vehicle-1 (MEV 1) spacecraft successfully completed its critical design review earlier this year and is now in production with about 75% of the platform and payload components already delivered to the company’s Satellite Manufacturing Facility in Virginia, United States. The spacecraft will begin system-level testing in spring 2018 with launch planned late next year. MEV-1 will provide satellite life extension services to its anchor customer, Intelsat S.A., beginning in early 2019.
Through its wholly-owned subsidiary Space Logistics LLC, Orbital ATK will introduce in-orbit commercial satellite servicing with MEV-1 which is based on the company’s GEOStarTM spacecraft platform. Controlled by the company’s satellite operations team, the MEV 1 uses a reliable, low-risk docking system that attaches to existing features on a customer’s satellite. The MEV-1 provides life-extending services by taking over the orbit maintenance and attitude control functions of the client’s spacecraft. The vehicle has a 15 year design life with the ability to perform numerous dockings and repositionings during its life span.
“The start of assembly of MEV 1 means that in-orbit satellite servicing will soon become a reality,” said Tom Wilson, President of Space Logistics. “MEV-1 will be the first spacecraft of its kind to offer this innovative service. This is just the first step toward introducing even more advanced space logistics capabilities in the future.”
Work on the spacecraft spans multiple locations across the company. Orbital ATK’s spacecraft components division is manufacturing the structures, propellant tanks and solar arrays for MEV-1 at locations in San Diego and Goleta, California. Additionally, the Rendezvous, Proximity Operations and Docking (RPOD) laboratory located at the company’s headquarters in Dulles, Virginia, is testing the sensors, actuators and control algorithms which allow for the tracking, approach and docking with a client spacecraft.
“Intelsat has a strong track record of incorporating innovative satellite technologies into its global operations, and MEV-1 will further those efforts,” said Ken Lee, Intelsat’s Senior Vice President of Space Systems. “In-orbit servicing will enhance our flexibility, responsiveness to market opportunities and provide additional robustness to our global fleet. With Orbital ATK, we have the right approach and a partner that fully understands the needs of our customers.”
MEV-1 will launch as a co-passenger with the Eutelsat 5WB satellite, also built by Orbital ATK.
Orbital ATK’s longer-range plan is to establish a fleet of in-orbit servicing vehicles that can address diverse space logistics needs including repair, assembly, refueling and in-space transportation. In addition to its commercial life extension services, the company is working closely with U.S. government agencies to develop key technologies to support these services, such as advanced robotics and high-power solar-electric propulsion.