Russia gets two contracts for Proton

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The competition heats up: Russia has signed two new contracts using its newly announced Proton-Medium rocket configuration.

Both contracts are for the same launch. The primary payload will be a Intelsat communications satellite. The secondary payload will be Orbital ATK’s first Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV-1), which is actually more significant and somewhat ground-breaking.

The MEV-1 provides life-extending services by taking over the propulsion and attitude control functions. Satellites have an average of 15 years of life on orbit, before they need to be replaced. The vehicle itself has a 15-year design life with the ability to perform numerous dockings and undockings during its life span. “Rather than launching new satellites, operators can extend the life of healthy in-orbit satellites, providing enhanced flexibility through Orbital ATK’s scalable and cost-efficient capabilities,” noted Our simple approach minimizes risk, enhances mission assurance, and enables our customers to realize the maximum value of their in-orbit satellite assets.”

The launch of MEV-1 will involve in-orbit testing and a demonstration to be performed with an Intelsat satellite. MEV-1 will then relocate to the Intelsat satellite scheduled for the mission extension service, which is planned for a five-year period. Intelsat will also have the option to service multiple satellites using the same MEV.

If MEV-1 proves successful, Orbital ATK will have built, launched, and made money from the first robot repair satellite. While at first glance this success suggests that satellite companies will need to launch fewer satellites, thus reducing the market demand for rockets, what it will really do is make the orbiting satellite more useful and profitable, thus encouraging new players to enter the market. The demand for satellites will increase, thus increasing the demand for rockets.

Ain’t freedom and private enterprise grand?


  • wodun

    This is pretty cool, it means the MEV-1 isn’t likely to be vaporware. There are many uses for a vehicle like this.

    If I were in charge of the DoD, I would order up a couple dozen to launch on demand.

  • Localfluff

    15 years ago people didn’t even have streaming video. What is a 15 years old communication satellite worth? If we believe Moore’s law, communication capacity doubles ten times in 15 years, i.e. by a factor of 1,000. It is the economic lifetime, not the technological lifetime, which is the relevant limit here.

    Astronomical (and maybe some secret military) spacecrafts are unique instruments and don’t have any such opportunity cost. Their lifetime could be worth prolonging.

  • Edward

    Locallfuff asked: “What is a 15 years old communication satellite worth?”

    Excellent question! As it turns out, for high throughput satellites, about half its revenue is made in the first five years of its fifteen year life expectancy, and about 1/6 is made in the last five years. This is because technology advancements give us increases in throughput.

    For satellites, a modified version of Moore’s law applies (bandwidth takes longer than 18 months to double), but the point is well taken that the value (read: “revenue”) of communication satellites decreases over time.

    So, the real question is: “Is it worth the cost of the MEV to extend the lifetime of a satellite?” For some satellites, the answer seems to be, “yes.”

  • Edward

    You may be interested in this commentary from Space News, a couple of months ago:

    This rate of capacity growth is approximately 500 to 1,000 times over 20 years — remarkably close to Moore’s law, which predicts a doubling of data density every two years.

    Looks like I didn’t remember Moore’s Law as well as I thought.

  • Calvin Dodge

    Actually, Edward, IIRC Moore’s Law originally did say 18 months, but was later extended to 24.

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