Orbital ATK gets first FCC license approval for space repair mission

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Capitalism in space: Orbital ATK has gotten its first FCC license approval for its Mission Extension Vehicle 1 (MEV-1) robotic space repair mission, set to launch late in 2018.

Space Logistics [a subsidiary of Orbital ATK] has a contract with fleet operator Intelsat of Washington and Luxembourg to provide in-orbit servicing with MEV-1 — the first in a proposed fleet of satellite servicers Dulles, Virginia-based Orbital ATK intends to build — with service beginning in early 2019.

In a public notice issued Dec. 8, the FCC authorized Space Logistics to use four different frequency bands for telemetry, tracking, and command (TT&C) of MEV-1 as the servicer completes post-launch maneuvers, reaches the graveyard orbit for decommissioned geostationary satellites some 300 kilometers above the geosynchronous arc, and attaches to Intelsat-901.

Space Logistics’ MEVs works by connecting to a satellite and taking over station-keeping, using fuel onboard the servicer to propel the satellite and extend its life. Most geostationary satellites are forced into retirement after 15 years or more due to a shortage of fuel. “It is in our plan for Intelsat-901 that at the end of the five-year life extension mission that we would return the IS-901 to the graveyard orbit and release them there. After that release the MEV would then proceed onto our next client,” Anderson said, adding that the next client has not yet been identified.

They will still need to obtain additional permits from both the FCC (for future operations) and from NOAA (because the spacecraft’s cameras, needed for docking, might also look at the Earth).

Why NOAA has this permitting power astonishes me, but then, in today’s government-run America, I probably should not be surprised. If we were trying to settle the west today we would likely have a whole range of government agencies requiring wagon train approval, route approval, and scheduling approval.



  • mike shupp

    I think the issue is that NOAA has jurisdiction over Landsat-like satellite imagery. In principle, the US government would like private firms to take over this business. Ir looks simple enough, people enjoy such images and corporations with land management concerns may find them valuable, but forty years of experience pretty much proves that no one wishes to pay much for such images. Consequently, firms providing satellite imagery want exclusivity — no rivals. Which means someone with licensing authority has to decide if satellites put up by other companies are snapping innocent single photographs of the earth, or acting as a commercial rival.

    Which, yes, is kind of silly, but maybe made sense when such satellites cost hundreds of millions of dollars and we were trying to get the industry going. Now, in an era of cheap nanosats … I dunno, maybe not.

  • ken anthony

    I guess camera restrictions in East Germany or N.K. would confuse folk today? “Isn’t that just normal?” the American [non-history] educated student asks?

  • wodun

    This is great news. The industry gets a new and needed product that has implications for national defense, expanding activities in cislunar space, and greater use of LEO/GEO.

  • mkent

    I suspect it has to do with enforcing the resolution limits on commercial imagery but maybe not.

  • Edward

    Permits or restrictions aside, this is an exciting technology.

  • Steve Earle

    Does Russia and China know that they need NOAA’s permission to take pictures of the Earth from Space??

    Silly is the correct term.

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