Orbital ATK unveils new satellite servicing robots


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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.

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5 comments

  • Steve Earle

    I think they were reading our comments here on BTB…..

    This makes much more sense than the MEV did. Why tie up your expensive robotic spacecraft for several years doing simple stationkeeping when you can just attach a pod and go on to service (for a nice fee) the next customer.

    The MEV will still have its uses, and I’m sure there will be some customers that will pay for its extra capabilities, but this new idea seems to be a much more practical use of resources.

  • wodun

    The pods have a shorter lifetime than an MEV and do not provide attitude control capabilities.

    Maybe more than one pod could though?

    These new products are exciting.

  • Max

    Steve Earle said,
    “The MEV will still have its uses, and I’m sure there will be some customers that will pay for its extra capabilities”
    I’m sure you made everyone’s minds start thinking about what else it could do. What capability do you wish for your spacecraft to have?
    First thing I thought of was attaching two pods for an additional 10 years of life, or attaching one to competitors satellite to give them trouble. Perhaps hijacking their information stream. Espionage to seewhat they’re up to.
    It will have it’s own independent control system. That means the pod could have communications, GPS, radar, or other independent satellite functions placed in orbit, paid for by the client! (don’t touch that self-destruct button)

  • Max

    Wodum quoted;
    “The pods have a shorter lifetime than an MEV and do not provide attitude control capabilities.”
    I just realized, The pods do not provide attitude control capabilities, but the MRV does… After its through delivering it’s pods, the MRV can provide similar services as the MEV.

  • Steve Earle

    Max said:
    “…or attaching one to competitors satellite to give them trouble. Perhaps hijacking their information stream. Espionage to seewhat they’re up to….”

    Brilliant! I wonder how many commercial (or military either…) satellites have the necessary sensors to tell when something is sneaking up on them? I would bet that is something all new sats will have built in from now on! LOL

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