As a part of a pioneering satellite-servicing mission, two commercial satellites have docked in orbit. If the remaining mission is successful, it should provide a feeble communications satellite a fresh lease on life, and it could jump-start an industry that keeps space junk from clogging the skies.
“This is the first time in history, a docking has ever been performed with a satellite that was not pre-designed with docking in mind,” a vice president at Space Logistics, Joe Anderson said, in a press conference. Space Logistics is the Northrop Grumman subsidiary that oversaw the mission. “This is the first time two commercial satellites have ever docked.”
On February 25th, Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV-1) of Northrop Grumman docked with Intelsat 901, a communications satellite. After about 19 years in space, Intelsat 901 is running low on fuel. If no step was taken, people on the ground would be unable to actively control the satellite. So a few years ago, Intelsat decided to sign on to a mission that would launch another satellite to increase the life of its diseased spacecraft by another five years.
MEV-1 was launched in October 2019, and it took around three months for it to reach Intelsat 901. The satellites met up in what’s referred to as “graveyard orbit,” which is a point where dysfunctional satellites are put so that they do not interfere with actively working satellites. Now that the two have been connected, MEV-1 is going to take over every control and navigation. Sometime in March, it is going to move Intelsat 901 out of the graveyard orbit so it can continue performing its operations. After about five years, MEV-1 is going to move Intelsat 901 back to the graveyard orbit where the communications satellite will be decommissioned. At that time, MEV-1 could possibly go on to service another satellite.
Getting into the business of satellite repair
The mission is an interesting milestone for the space industry, which has been working in the field of ‘uncrewed’ satellite repair for years. If they accomplish the fixing of these satellites in orbit, this could save a lot of money of satellite companies and possibly decrease the amount of space junk that’s orbiting Earth.] Missions that have occurred in the past to move or service satellites have depended on crewed missions, such as several trips to service the Hubble Space Telescope.
Northrop Grumman isn’t the only company that is putting efforts to get into satellite repair. Astroscale, a private company aimed at space debris removal, is planning to launch a test mission this year, during which two satellites is going to execute docking in space with the help of magnetic plates. It wishes to make a way to lock on to defunct satellites and guide them into an orbit where they will finally burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.
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