Apr 17, 2020 - Science

Servicing spacecraft brings old satellite back to life

A satellite comes into view above Earth in black and white as seen by another satellite
Intelsat-901 as seen by the MEV-1 spacecraft. Photo: Northrop Grumman

A satellite has been returned to service thanks to a new kind of spacecraft designed to bring defunct satellites back to life, Intelsat and Northrop Grumman announced Friday.

Why it matters: This milestone marks some of the first proof that this kind of satellite servicing could work in the long run, extending the lives of expensive spacecraft and reducing the amount of junk in orbit.

Details: Northrop Grumman's MEV-1 servicing spacecraft linked up with the Intelsat-901 communications satellite in February.

  • Since then, MEV-1 has moved the satellite in orbit and brought it back into service for Intelsat, with 30 customers on the ground now using the satellite.
  • MEV-1 is expected to stay attached to Intelsat-901 for the next five years, at which point it will be able to detach and possibly move on to service another spacecraft.

The big picture: A number of companies are looking to make money by servicing satellites or cleaning up junk in orbit.

  • However, it's not yet clear exactly who's responsible for cleaning up orbital debris, possibly complicating the business propositions for these companies.
  • According to an estimate from Northern Sky Research, the on-orbit servicing market could reach as much as $4.5 billion in revenue by 2028.
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