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.

Northrop Grumman says six customers have bought missions using its upgraded orbital repair robot

Capitalism in space:A Northrop Grumman official has revealed that it already has six customers willing to buy missions using its upgraded orbital repair robot to fix orbiting satellites that are presently defunct due to lack of fuel.

Unlike the company’s first robotic repair satellites, dubbed Mission Extension Vehicles (MEV), the Mission Robotic Vehicle (MRV) for these new contracts will not dock directly to the satellite, but use a robot arm to attach an extension pod to each.

The primary commercial mission of the MRV is to install small propulsion devices known as mission extension pods. One of these units is inserted in the back of a client satellite propulsion system, adding six years of life to most geostationary satellites, he said.

The six customers have signed term sheets for seven mission extension pods, Anderson said. Once contracts are firmed up the company will be able to disclose their names.

The first MRV launch in 2024 will carry three pods. “With these six customers, the MRV manifest is currently filled through mid-2026,” he said. The MRV is expected to have a 10-year service life.

This MRV system is far more cost effective than the MEV, since the latter can only repair one satellite, while the former can fix several with a single launch.

Both Northrop Grumman and Astroscale (see my previous post) are demonstrating the emergence of a new cottage satellite industry, the repair of old satellites and the removal of space junk, all for profit.