Northrop Grumman has built a satellite called the Mission Extension Vehicle or MEV 1. MEV 1 is designed to dock with an aging spacecraft in orbit above the Earth and extend that spacecraft’s life. The way the MEV 1 will extend the life of the spacecraft already in orbit is by docking with it and adding solar-electric thrusters.
The satellite getting the life extension is an 18-year-old communication satellite called Intelsat, and the mission is set for early next year. MEV 1 will take over propulsion for Intelsat 901, which is currently running low on fuel.
The life extension service is provided by Space Logistics LLC, a subsidiary of Northrop Grumman, the company that built the satellite servicing platform. The mission marks the first-ever attempt at docking two spacecraft that are in near geostationary orbit 22,000 miles above the Earth. The service emission will lift off this week atop a Russian Proton rocket.
The MEV 1 mission isn’t the only satellite that is on the rocket. Another satellite built by Northrop Grumman that will provide broadcast services for Eutelsat will be aboard the rocket. The MEV 1 spacecraft is a large satellite weighing over 5,100 pounds.
The Eutelsat will be deployed first, and the MEV 1 will deploy about 20 minutes later. MEV 1 will take about three and a half months to get to its rendezvous point mostly because it is mainly using electric propulsion to perform the orbit-raising maneuvers. Intelsat controller will raise the satellite to about 200 miles higher than its current orbit to the so-called GEO graveyard orbit. The rendezvous maneuver will happen in late January if all goes well. Northrop notes that MEV is a multiple-use spacecraft and will serve many clients in its life; it will operate the Intelsat for about five years.