Northrop Grumman makes history by extending satellite life

Northrop Grumman, one of the largest aerospace corporations on the planet, has made history again by extending a defunct satellite life by in-space service.

Northrop Grumman is an American aerospace corporation with annual revenue of $30 Billion. It has become one of the market leaders in the civilian, military, and space aviation industries. Now, it has become the first company to service an active satellite in space.

Northrop and Intelsat- Bonding in Space

Around 1.34 p.m., E.T, Northrop Grumman successfully a Mission Extension vehicle or MEV to the Intelsat 10-02 (AKA IS-1002). The Intelsat 10-02 was launched in 2004 by a Proton-M rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, on 16 June 2004.

This satellite was stationed in the Geosynchronous orbit to provide internet and television services to more than 18 million households in Europe. Its service area includes Europe, South America, Africa, and the Middle East. This satellite operated for 18 years, well beyond its life. This MEV-2 mission extended its life by five years by adding a spare engine with fuel. 

Intelsat Chief Services Officer Mike DeMarco said that “We are proud to work side by side with Northrop Grumman on today’s groundbreaking mission, the first-ever docking of a communications satellite in GEO orbit.” This process of servicing a satellite in its orbit is now called “on-orbit service, assembly, and manufacturing” or OSAM.

The Mission Extension Vehicle is a probe launched into space to attach itself to an aging satellite. The MEV uses its own engine and fuel to provide power to the host satellite in the extended life period. MEV can be the next big thing in the space exploration and satellite industry because of its cost. Satellite service providers could reduce operation costs by launching an MEV to extend life instead of spending on a brand-new satellite. Geosynchronous satellites are also known to be costly to make and launch.

Northrop Grumman- A Market Leader?

Tom Wilson, vice president of Northrop Grumman’s strategic space systems, stated that “Today’s successful docking of our second Mission Extension Vehicle further demonstrates the reliability, safety, and utility of in-space logistics.”

Last year, Northrop Grumman launched MEV-1, the first vehicle, to service an inactive Intelsat IS-901 satellite. But, orbited that satellite in the graveyard orbit. It is where defunct satellites revolve around the Earth. MEV-1 serviced that satellite and moved it back into operational orbit. This MEV-2 serviced Intelsat-1002 right in its active orbit, thus taking a much bigger risk. This MEV-2 was launched in August 2020 by an Arianespace Ariane 5 rocket. It spent these last months to fly out to the Intelsat 10-02.

Northrop Grumman entered the MEV industry when it purchased orbital ATK in 2018. Their MEV program continued in Northrop, which subsequently launched MEV-1 and MEV-2 programs.

Northern Sky Research, a satellite consulting firm, states that the market of satellite servicing and life-extending can be a $3.2 Billion industry by 2030. The firm also predicts that there could be more than 75 geosynchronous satellites that require such service in 2030.

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Image courtesy of Northrop Grumman/YouTube Screenshot

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