Northrop Grumman about to launch second mission extension robot


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Capitalism in space: The success of Northrop Grumman’s first Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV-1) to dock with a dead communications satellite and bring it back to life has set the stage for the second MEV, set for launch on an Ariane 5 before the end of the month.

For MEV-1’s mission, Intelsat decommissioned the 901 satellite and moved it up into the GEO graveyard for rendezvous and docking operations.

However, the main result of the excellent performance of MEV-1 and a full demonstration of the docking and capture process is that MEV-2 will not be required to rendezvous with its target in the GEO graveyard. Nor will the satellite be deactivated. Instead, MEV-2 will move directly to the main operational GEO belt and approach Intelsat 10-02 while the satellite is still actively relaying telecommunications. “Intelsat has confirmed their desire on the next MEV, MEV-2, to do the docking directly in GEO orbit. They will be maintaining customer traffic as we do the docking with MEV-2,” noted Mr. Anderson.

This new approach, which was always the goal for future MEV operations, was aided in large part by confirmation to a high degree of accuracy that all of MEV’s systems worked as planned during Intelsat 901 operations.

The article notes that this concept could even be extended to sending a robot to Hubble to provide it accurate pointing capability when its last gyroscopes finally fail, thus extending the life of that space telescope even farther beyond its original planned fifteen year lifespan that ended in 2005.

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9 comments

  • mpthompson

    It would be terrific to see Hubble extended in this manner. I also would love to see NASA commission a service mission to Hubble via crew SpaceX Dragon or via Sierra Nevada Dreamchaser — although I don’t know if either of these would be suitable for the EVA aspects such a mission would like require. Seems like getting another 10 years from Hubble would be well worth the cost given how productive the telescope has been during its lifetime.

  • MDN

    A robotic service of Hubble with a new maneuvering sub-system would be cool.

    Utility of a manned servicing mission would depend on what instrumentation they could replace to refresh/upgrade performance.

    Personally I’d prefer to see NASA start pursuing an inexpensive standardized 1 meter space telescope chassis with a long term goal of deploying them en mass. Plan for a variety of standard focal lengths to address varying mission needs, a variety of sensors (IR, visible, UV), and the control/positioning technology to work as coordinated multi-spectral and interferometric arrays, and as their own communications relay network as well.

    I’d also engineer them to be an opportunistic secondary payload option on Falcon 9 so they could buy cheap launch slots on commercial missions that met acceptable orbital criteria. And to sell them (or a share in one) to partner nations looking to build STEM skills. And I’d charter the universities and national labs with regularized contracts to continually develop an ever improving series of instruments. And plan to launch 1 a month indefinitely.

    That’s what I would do.

  • Chris

    So is the MEV-x not also an anti-sat device too? It’s just what your intentions are that determines if you’re there to rescue or remove the target satellite from service.

  • Chris: Bingo! I really despise the way the press and the public these days make believe there is a difference in the engineering between military and civilian space stuff. If you can do one you can do the other.

    And it is silly to whine about one when the other exists.

  • David K

    I do think there is a distinction to be made between many of the asats which blow a satellite up and create a bunch of space junk vs something like this that can move something from one orbit to another without damaging it.

    So if someone moves your satellite without your permission, you would treat it as if they towed your car without permission, but that’s a different issue than a car bomb.

  • pzatchok

    How big of a mirror or telescope could we put into a cube sat payload?

    Something costing less than 100,000 dollars to assemble.

    Something undergraduate students could cut their teeth on.

  • Edward

    pzatchok asked: “How big of a mirror or telescope could we put into a cube sat payload?

    One of the standard-size cubesats is a 3-unit, which is about 4″ X 4″ X 12″, about the size of a loaf of sandwich bread. Thus, a mirror just under 4″ diameter could conceivably fit, with the telescope length being less than 12″.

  • pzatchok

    12x12x12

    Is the smallest area I can think of and possibly fit in everything for a good setup. But that would include an 8 inch mirror, 4k HD camera and filters.
    Maybe a 30 inch tube.

  • Edward

    pzatchok,

    The 3-unit cubesat already fits a standard release mechanism. Going larger could cost much more. The limited size forces the students to think harder, learn to make trade-offs, and maybe come up with new ideas to cram more into a small size. Since the object of the exercise is to teach, not beat the Hubble in image quality, it is OK for the telescope to be much smaller than 4″ diameter or 12″ length.

    I like your thought of having a telescoping telescope, extending itself longer after orbit insertion.

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