It’s a first: One commercial satellite docks with another to demonstrate orbital servicing

View of Intelsat-901 satellite
An image captured by Northrop Grumman’s MEV-1 satellite shows the Intelsat 901 satellite at a distance of about 80 meters, with Earth in the background. (Northrop Grumman / SpaceLogistics Photo)

For the first time, one commercial satellite has docked with another satellite in geosynchronous orbit, demonstrating a technology that will be crucial for on-orbit servicing and reducing space junk.

  • Northrop Grumman said today that its MEV-1 satellite made contact with the Intelsat 901 telecommunications satellite at 11:15 p.m. PT Monday after a careful, weeks-long approach. Intelsat removed its 18-year-old satellite from service in December for the experiment.
  • Intelsat 901 had been running low on thruster fuel and was nearing retirement. Now that the two spacecraft are docked, MEV-1 will use its electric propulsion system to push Intelsat’s satellite into its intended orbit and extend its life by five years. That reflects the meaning of the MEV acronym: Mission Extension Vehicle.
  • The mission extension service, offered by Northrop Grumman subsidiary SpaceLogistics, plans to use MEVs to keep healthy spacecraft when they run low on fuel. When those aging satellites are at the end of their useful lives, the MEVs will dispose of them and then move on to the next client. Cost of the service was not disclosed.

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