Two Mission Extension Vehicles from Northrop Grumman are currently in orbit, offering station-keeping solutions for 2 Intelsat geostationary satellites, which were running out of fuel. Meanwhile, the business is getting ready to deploy a new servicing vehicle featuring a robotic arm that is going to put propulsion jet packs on satellites that are nearing the end of their lives.
According to Joe Anderson, who serves as the vice president in charge of the operations and business development at the Space Logistics, six clients have signed up to have their satellites serviced by the Mission Robotic Vehicle, which is set to launch in 2024. Space Logistics, which is a fully owned subsidiary of the Northrop Grumman, developed the MRV as a second-generation servicing vehicle. It combines the company’s commercially operating Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV) with the robotic payload produced by Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
Under cooperation with Space Logistics, DARPA will share its robotic arm, allowing the company to deploy the technology for government and commercial satellite operations in the geostationary belt. “Through the performance of the commercial missions, we will be proving some robotic capacity for the government,” Anderson added.
The MRV’s primary commercial objective is to install mission extension pods, which are miniature propulsion systems. According to him, one of these devices is placed into the back of a customer satellite propulsion system, giving most geostationary satellites an extra six years of life. According to Anderson, the 6 clients have inked term sheets for 7 mission extension pods. The firm will be able to reveal their names once contracts have been finalized.
Three pods will be carried on the very first MRV deployment in 2024. “The MRV manifest is currently booked through mid-2026 with these six customers,” he said. The MRV’s planned service life is ten years. Anderson stated that Space Logistics expects to deploy 5 – 6 mission extension pods every year. “We intend to launch the second batch of MEPs in the early 2025.”.
The major function of the MRV is likely to be the implementation of MEPs or even other devices. However, Northrop Grumman is also searching for possibilities to provide other services such as detailed inspections, vehicle relocations, and minor repairs such as freeing a trapped solar array or a malfunctioning antenna.
Commercial MEVs, according to Anderson, can accomplish more than merely docked station keeping, as they are currently performing for Intelsat. They could also dock with the satellites in inclined orbits to lessen their inclination, move satellites to different orbits, and perform remote inspections with LIDAR sensors. DARPA and Space Logistics just completed a preliminary design evaluation of MRV, and later are assessing the mission extension pod at firm’s assembly site in Dulles, Virginia.