Orbital ATK (NYSE: OA) has revealed significant progress on the industry’s first commercial in-space satellite servicing system.
The Mission Extension Vehicle-1 (MEV-1) spacecraft successfully completed its critical design review earlier this year and is now in production, with about 75 percent of the platform and payload components already delivered to the company’s Satellite Manufacturing Facility in Virginia. The spacecraft will begin system-level testing in the spring of 2018, with launch planned late next year. MEV-1 will provide satellite life extension services to its anchor customer, Intelsat S.A., starting in early 2019. MEV-1 will launch as a co-passenger with the Eutelsat 5WB satellite, also built by Orbital ATK.
Through its wholly-owned subsidiary Space Logistics LLC, Orbital ATK will introduce on orbit commercial satellite servicing with MEV-1 which is based on the company’s GEOStar™ spacecraft platform. Controlled by the company’s satellite operations team, the MEV-1 uses a reliable, low-risk docking system that attaches to existing features on a customer’s satellite. The MEV-1 provides life-extending services by taking over the orbit maintenance and attitude control functions of the client’s spacecraft. The vehicle has a 15 year design life with the ability to perform numerous dockings and repositionings during its life span.
Work on the spacecraft spans multiple locations across the company. Orbital ATK’s spacecraft components division is manufacturing the structures, propellant tanks and solar arrays for MEV-1 at locations in San Diego and Goleta, California. Additionally, the Rendezvous, Proximity Operations and Docking (RPOD) laboratory located at the company’s headquarters in Dulles, Virginia, is testing the sensors, actuators and control algorithms which allow for the tracking, approach and docking with a client spacecraft.
Orbital ATK’s longer-range plan is to establish a fleet of on orbit servicing vehicles that can address diverse space logistics needs including repair, assembly, refueling and in-space transportation. In addition to its commercial life extension services, the company is working closely with U.S. government agencies to develop key technologies to support these services, such as advanced robotics and high-power solar-electric propulsion.
Tom Wilson, the President of Space Logistics, reported that the start of assembly of MEV-1 means that on orbit satellite servicing will soon become a realit. MEV-1 will be the first spacecraft of its kind to offer this innovative service. This is just the first step toward introducing even more advanced space logistics capabilities in the future.
Ken Lee, Intelsat’s Senior Vice President of Space Systems, noted that his company has a strong track record of incorporating innovative satellite technologies into its global operations, and MEV-1 will further those efforts. On orbit servicing will enhance the company's flexibility, responsiveness to market opportunities and provide additional robustness to Intelsat's global fleet. With Orbital ATK, the correct approach is being taken with a partner that fully understands the needs of Intelsat customers.