On Monday, two aerospace firms realised an industry first as a small Intelsat spacecraft docked successfully with a small Northrop Grumman satellite to provide service and extend its life. The IS 1002 satellite is nearly 18 years old and operating well past its expected lifespan, but the Northrop Grumman-built spacecraft called MEV- 2 will add another five years of life to IS 1002 by essentially re-fueling the satellite and giving it a new engine for control. The companies reached a milestone in the growing business of servicing satellites in space. Today's successful docking of our second mission extension vehicle further demonstrates the reliability, safety and utility of strategic space logistics, said Tom Wilson, vice president of Nothrop Grumman's strategic space systems in a statement. The success of this mission paves the way for our second generation of servicing satellites and robotics, offering flexibility and resiliency for both the new and public satellite operators, which can enable entirely commercial classes of missions.
Extending the life of an active spacecraft in orbit has only been done with human help before-such as the Hubble telescope servicing missions carried by NASA astronauts. Launched on an Arianespace Ariane 5 rocket in August, the robotic MEV 2 spent the last several months travelling to the satellite. MEV-2 then matched its orbit before successfully docking, while also providing unique images of the satellite as the spacecraft approached. IS-1002 was launched in June 2004 and was intended to only be available for 13 years, supplying broadband communication services to Europe, South America, Africa and the Middle East. The satellite is in a geographical position above Earth in what is known as a geosynchronous orbit-tens of thousands of miles up to provide as wide a coverage area as effectively possible. The MEV -2 mission builds on the success of Northrop Grumman's MEV 1 mission last year, which docked with an inactive Intelsat satellite. The satellite was in a graveyard orbit, meaning that it was no longer providing services, but MEV-1 restored it and moved the satellite back into position. The MEV 2 spacecraft, while similar to MEV -1, extended that mission a step further by docking and taking over the life of a satellite currently in service. Northern Sky Research, a satellite consulting firm, estimates that the market for satellite maintenance and life extension is a$ 3.2 billion opportunity over the next decade. The firm expects to have upward of 75 satellites by 2030, with companies and governments looking to extend the lifespan of typically expensive geosynchronous equatorial orbit satellites rather than launch replacements.