Tag Archives: satellite servicing

Orbital ATK unveils new satellite servicing robots

Capitalism in space: At a satellite conference yesterday Orbital ATK unveiled a new robotic satellite servicing system utilizing two new robots, the Mission Robotic Vehicle (MRV) and Mission Extension Pods (MEP), simpler yet also more sophisticated versions of its Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV) which is already planned for launch later this year.

Under the new approach, a Mission Robotic Vehicle, based on the MEV design, will carry 10 to 12 Mission Extension Pods. The Mission Robotic Vehicle would approach a customer’s satellite and use a robotic arm to attach a pod to that satellite. The pod would then take over stationkeeping, proving up to five years of additional life. The Mission Robotic Vehicle and Mission Extension Pods are intended to provide new solutions to customers that don’t need the full-fledged capabilities of the MEV. The pods have a shorter lifetime than an MEV and do not provide attitude control capabilities.

The new system, designed to be ready for service in 2021, largely incorporates existing technology. The Mission Robotic Vehicle is a version of the MEV and the Mission Extension Pods is based on Orbital ATK’s ESPASat small satellite bus.

One new technology will be the robotic arm. Tom Wilson, president of SpaceLogistics, the Orbital ATK subsidiary offering the satellite life extension program, said the company was considering technology from NASA as well as Europe. “We’ve got a couple of different options,” he said, but hasn’t yet made a decision on the specific technology.

Orbital ATK’s new design will certainly cost its customers a lot less, since its design that will allow them, with one launch, to place a robot in orbit capable of servicing up to twelve different satellites. You want to extend the life of your communications satellite by five years? You call Orbital ATK, and they use their already orbiting Mission Robotic Vehicle to install an extension pod on your satellite. This way they can spread the cost of the launch across a dozen different customers.


Orbital ATK to launch robotic servicing mission

The competition heats up: Orbital ATK has signed Intelsat to the first contract for a private robotic servicing mission to defunct commercial communications satellites.

Orbital ATK is offering the Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV), a spacecraft designed to rendezvous with a commercial satellite and dock to the nozzle of its apogee kick motor and surrounding adapter ring. The MEV would then take over propulsion and attitude control for the satellite, offering up to five years of extended life.

Intelsat has agreed to be the customer for the first MEV mission, named MEV-1 and scheduled for launch in 2018. MEV-1 will first dock with a retired satellite in a graveyard orbit above stationary orbit to test its systems, then dock with an active Intelsat satellite to extend its life for five years.

I like the concept. Unlike other much more complicated proposals, which propose to actually refuel the satellite’s original tank, this is simple, quick, and quite doable for relatively little developmental cost. Orbital ATK already as the technology to do the rendezvous, from its Cygnus freighter. All they need to refine is the specific technology to attach to the specific satellites.