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Capitalism in space: At a satellite conference yesterday Orbital ATK unveiled a new robotic satellite servicing system utilizing two new robots, the Mission Robotic Vehicle (MRV) and Mission Extension Pods (MEP), simpler yet also more sophisticated versions of its Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV) which is already planned for launch later this year.
Under the new approach, a Mission Robotic Vehicle, based on the MEV design, will carry 10 to 12 Mission Extension Pods. The Mission Robotic Vehicle would approach a customer’s satellite and use a robotic arm to attach a pod to that satellite. The pod would then take over stationkeeping, proving up to five years of additional life. The Mission Robotic Vehicle and Mission Extension Pods are intended to provide new solutions to customers that don’t need the full-fledged capabilities of the MEV. The pods have a shorter lifetime than an MEV and do not provide attitude control capabilities.
The new system, designed to be ready for service in 2021, largely incorporates existing technology. The Mission Robotic Vehicle is a version of the MEV and the Mission Extension Pods is based on Orbital ATK’s ESPASat small satellite bus.
One new technology will be the robotic arm. Tom Wilson, president of SpaceLogistics, the Orbital ATK subsidiary offering the satellite life extension program, said the company was considering technology from NASA as well as Europe. “We’ve got a couple of different options,” he said, but hasn’t yet made a decision on the specific technology.
Orbital ATK’s new design will certainly cost its customers a lot less, since its design that will allow them, with one launch, to place a robot in orbit capable of servicing up to twelve different satellites. You want to extend the life of your communications satellite by five years? You call Orbital ATK, and they use their already orbiting Mission Robotic Vehicle to install an extension pod on your satellite. This way they can spread the cost of the launch across a dozen different customers.