Orbital ATK gets its second contract for its satellite repair robot


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Capitalism in space: Orbital ATK has signed a second contract to build another Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV), designed to robotically extend the life of old but usable satellites.

The vehicle was ordered by Intelsat S.A. to provide life extension services for an Intelsat satellite. Orbital ATK is now producing MEV-1, the industry’s first commercial in-space satellite servicing system, for Intelsat with launch scheduled for late 2018. Under this new agreement, Orbital ATK will manufacture, test and launch MEV-2 and begin mission extension services in mid-2020. The production of the second MEV is part of Orbital ATK’s longer-range plan to establish a fleet of in-orbit servicing vehicles that can address diverse space logistics needs including repair, assembly, refueling and in-space transportation.

“Work on MEV-1 is progressing rapidly toward a late 2018 launch with system-level testing beginning this spring,” said Tom Wilson, President of Orbital ATK’s Space Logistics, LLC subsidiary. “With the launch of MEV-2, Orbital ATK will continue to pioneer in-space satellite servicing for commercial operators. Intelsat’s commitment to a second MEV demonstrates not only the market demand for our servicing vehicles, but also the customer’s confidence in our product.”

Through its Space Logistics subsidiary, Orbital ATK will introduce in-orbit commercial satellite servicing with MEV-1 late this year. The MEV is based on the company’s GEOStarTM spacecraft platform, and controlled by the company’s satellite operations team. The MEV uses a reliable, low-risk docking system that attaches to existing features on a customer’s satellite, and provides life-extending services by taking over the orbit maintenance and attitude control functions of the client’s spacecraft. Each MEV vehicle has a 15 year design life with the ability to perform numerous dockings and repositionings during its life span.

What Orbital ATK here is doing is creating a entirely new cottage industry with the satellite industry, providing satellite companies an inexpensive way to maintain their satellite networks without building and launching a whole new communications satellite. Once Orbital has placed a number of these in orbit, they will be available to move from satellite to satellite. Once their first repair job is finally finished, they will then move on to another at relatively little cost.

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10 comments

  • ken anthony

    Seizing opportunity since 1776!

  • Ted

    I just watched a NOVA program about the history of the Hubble space telescope. They mentioned that a connector was installed on Hubble for a rocket device to guide Hubble on it’s final plunge into the ocean/atmosphere.

    Couldn’t the same device be used with a MEV type unit to boost Hubble’s orbit and extend it’s life once again. Not sure how well the rest of the unit is working but it still is an amazing device.

  • Ted: The MEV is essentially going to prove out such technology, and will make future repairs to Hubble more likely, though the MEV itself is likely not the robot to do it.

  • Ted

    Mr. Z. Just wondering if those countries that are currently active in space should be ‘required’ to have MEV connections to any of their satellites weighing over xxx tons so that they can either be repaired or controlled in their re-entry. I am thinking of the now useless Chinese space station which is out of control and will come down someplace.

  • Ted: Anytime anyone uses words like “required,” “forced,” “mandated,” etc I get an urge to scream in frustrated anger.

    No we don’t need to “require” anything. If it makes economic sense for these companies to install common connection points, they will do it. They will also band together freely to do it, as they wish. We already see this happening with cubesats, which are standardized to begin with (no “requirement” there), with other industry proposals suggesting that launch rockets standardize their payload attachment systems.

    “Requiring” things has nothing to do with freedom. While I agree that there are times when rules might be appropriate, those times are rare. Today’s culture leaps to making rules at the slightest hint of difficulty, something I despise..

  • wodun

    I wonder how many satellites in the graveyard orbit could be revitalized because of MEV’s? Or if there is enough useful material up there to justify an MEV moving them around to have their components re-purposed.

  • wodun

    The MEV is really a remarkable capability that isn’t getting the attention it deserves because of all of the other amazing things taking place right now. That is a good problem for the industry to have.

  • Steve Earle

    wodun said:

    “…..The MEV is really a remarkable capability that isn’t getting the attention it deserves because of all of the other amazing things taking place right now. That is a good problem for the industry to have….”

    Agreed. A few years ago I was convinced that we as a species had turned away from Space and when the Soyuz and the ISS were done that would be it for manned space and any unmanned missions beyond Earth orbit.

    Now I am starting to become optimistic again. Cautiously optimistic to be sure, but it’s still better than getting my popcorn ready to watch the decline and fall of western technological society….. LOL

  • Edward

    wodun asked: “I wonder how many satellites in the graveyard orbit could be revitalized because of MEV’s? Or if there is enough useful material up there to justify an MEV moving them around to have their components re-purposed.

    Wow. What a concept. I am not sure that a dead satellite can be awoken, but if it is possible then some of them may be worth the effort.

    As for re-purposing components, that is a concept that has been seriously proposed for a few years, perhaps half a decade or so. There are literally tons of materials that could be reused in one way or another, and I envision a future facility in geostationary orbit or at the Earth-Moon L1 point doing just that. The delta V required to take currently orbiting debris there is far less than is needed to lift material from the Earth to low Earth orbit.

    One problem to moving dead satellites around is that they may be tumbling, making catching them a bit tricky. The MEV would have a hard time docking with them in the same way that they can dock with an active, stable satellite. It would not be impossible, but it would take more thought, more effort, and probably different equipment onboard the MEV (or ULA’s ACES or Lockheed Martin’s proposed tug, Jupiter) to do it. If MEV is successful, I can see this being a project in the next couple of decades, or so.

  • Anthony Domanico

    Ted,

    Mr. Z’s point is valid but there is another facet to consider regarding “space junk.” Space faring countries already have a strong incentive to be very thoughtful on where their assets come down. The Outer Space Treaty holds the launching country responsible for any damage incurred by reentering objects. There is a precedent for this law being evoked. I believe a Russian satellite crashed in Canada and Russia was on the hook for damages caused by the radioactive material that contaminated the area.

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