Northrop Grumman's satellite servicer MEV-1, Eutelsat satellite, launch on ILS Proton

Federico Mansilla
Octubre 10, 2019

Russia on Wednesday launched the Proton-M heavy-class carrier rocket with European Eutelsat 5 West B and U.S. Mission Extension Vehicle-1 satellites, Russian state space corporation Roscosmos said.

A spacecraft that is set to be the first to offer on-orbit satellite servicing was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan early yesterday.

The MEV-1 and Eutelsat 5 West B launch was ILS's first and only mission for this year.

Under the terms of the build contract, Airbus Defence and Space was responsible for the communications payload while Northrop Grumman was responsible for the overall design, integration, and testing of the satellite as well as providing its main operational platform.

Following further manoeuvres and in-orbit tests, Eutelsat 5 West B will be positioned at 5° West at the end of 2019 to replace Eutelsat 5 West A, assuring service continuity for over 300 TV channels broadcast from this position.

The launch is ILS' first of the year, and while Russian Federation has launched multiple spacecraft on the same Proton before, it is the company's first dual launch carrying two commercial satellites. This satellite programme reflects outstanding collaboration between Eutelsat, GSA, Airbus Defence and Space, Northrop Grumman, International Launch Services and Khrunichev. Eutelsat 5 West A will remain at the same slot and carry out other missions, according to the operator.

Supplied by Northrop Grumman subsidiary SpaceLogistics LLC, the MEV is estimated (PDF) to be compatible with 80 per cent of all geosynchronous satellites on orbit today, utilising a simple mechanical system to grapple a client satellite before taking over station-keeping duties.

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"In 2009, we invested in our rendezvous, proximity, and docking laboratory and began developing our own internal concept for this Mission Extension Vehicle".

Once in range of Intelsat-901, MEV-1 will utilise multiple cameras, laser range-finders, and onboard computers to detect, track and dock with the communications satellite.

In short, the Mission Extension Vehicle is exactly what it sounds like: a semi-autonomous satellite created to approach still-functioning GEO satellites, dock to them, and provide augmented propulsion operations for satellites running out of fuel. SpaceLogistics' initial service, using the MEV 1, will extend the life of the Intelsat 901 satellite for five years.

NASA has performed demonstrations of robotic refueling on the ISS, and intends to launch its Restore-L mission to refill a free-flying government satellite in the near future.

After inspecting IS901, MEV-1 will approach from behind autonomously with a few holds along the way for ground controller verification. Its two passengers are scheduled to separate from the rocket nearly 16 hours later in a supersynchronous transfer orbit.

Once attached, MEV-1 will provide all of the propulsion requirements for IS-901. Its service life estimate is 15 years.

Keeping old satellites operational through life extension has another benefit too, he said.

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