Satellites Space

Northrop Grumman’s satellite servicer, MEV-2, about to dock at Intelsat’s 10-02 satellite

Northrop Grumman‘s second servicing satellite, MEV-2, approaches Intelsat’s 10-02 satellite readiness for a docking attempt. According to media reports, the satellite placed in a graveyard orbit after years in space will be serviced by the American aerospace company’s servicer, the second collaboration between the two companies.

The first satellite to be serviced by Northrop Grumman’s inaugural satellite servicing mission was an Intelsat 901 in April 2020. After about nineteen years in space, the satellite had lost its capacity. Northrop Grumman’s MEV-1 revived the communication satellite back to life, which now serves the Atlantic region.

Both satellites are in good shape and have been close for a while to allow calibration and testing of systems before the MEV-2 moved away, revealed a Northrop Grumman official. The official noted that the company would be giving more light into the matter once the MEV-2 has docked into the Intelsat 10-02.

MEV-2 was designed like its predecessor. However, the two missions are not similar. For MEV-1, it serviced a satellite that was no longer functional and brought it back to service. The MEV-2 is working on the Intel-10-02 active and has been carrying communications traffic in a geosynchronous equatorial orbit (GEO).

Northrop and Intelsat have partnered the second time to time approaches and docking to enhance the latter’s business needs. Unlike the MEV-1, MEV-2 is not transferring the Intelsat satellite from one orbit to another. This mission aims to extend Intelsat-10-02’s life in space by providing a new engine and fuel tank.

According to the Philadelphia-based satellite industry consultant Northern Sky Research(NSR) research, the GEO servicing missions will grow to about seventy-five satellites by 2030. These life-extension missions are valued at approximately $3.2 billion cumulative market potential.

Hussain Bokhari, an analyst at NSR, reveals that’s in the next decade, the space sector can expect the servicing of around 230 in-orbits satellites as governments, military and commercial space companies increase their GEO and non-GEO missions. According to Bokhari, space agencies will need to relocate, salvage, and repair their satellites at some point in the coming years.

This niche has since attracted new startups as it has a promising opportunity. Recently, a Ukrainian new venture, Kurs Orbital, revealed its plans to launch a service vehicle using a technology used in the early days of the Soviet Union. The firm will launch the space vehicle prototype in 2023, according to sources inside the company. Volodymyr Usov co-founded Kurs Orbital after stepping down as Ukraine’s Space Agency’s chief.

In-orbit servicing could be the next big thing in the space industry. However, analysts warn that slow technology development, lack of confidence in satellite servicing capacity, and lack of clear technical and safe operating protocols could drag the upcoming sector down.

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