Northrop Grumman to launch new satellite serving mission in ’24 on Falcon 9

Capitalism in space: Northrop Grumman yesterday announced that it has awarded the contract for the first launch of its Mission Robotic Vehicle (MRV) — designed as a robot capable of installing multiple mission extension pods (MEP) on satellites — to SpaceX for a launch scheduled in 2024.

Once in orbit each MEP [Mission Extension Pod] is captured by the MRV and stowed for transport to the client satellite. The MRV rendezvous and docks with the client to install the MEP, which operates like an auxiliary propulsion device and uses its own thrusters to maneuver the client vehicle. Then the MRV detaches itself and moves on to grab another MEP for the next customer. The MRV is designed to stay in orbit for 10 years.

Anderson said the company expects to install as many as 30 propulsion pods over the life of the MRV.

“Our manifest for the MRV is full through mid 2026,” he said. Besides Optus, five other customers have signed term sheets to purchase mission extension pods.

Essentially, Northrop Grumman upgraded its Mission Extension Vehicle design to separate the repair section from the robot that installs it so that it is cheaper to launch everything. It can now launch multiple lighter and smaller repair pods as needed, with the robot already in orbit ready to go.