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INTELSAT 901 now has 5 year extended life with in-orbit service from MEV-1

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Apr 18th, 2020 at 3:50pm  
INTELSAT 901 now has 5 year extended life with in-orbit service from a Northrop Grumman Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV-1).

Intelsat 903 was launched 30 March 2002 and after 18 years service was still working perfectly but running low on fuel for orbit stationkeeping. Its inclination was increasing. In the past, such satellites have been declared end-of-life and have had their orbit raised to a graveyard orbit before being switched off.

In this case an additional 'tug' spacecraft was launched, called MEV-1. Built by Northrop Grumman, it has a camera, docking probe, a tank of fuel and set of thrusters. This spacecraft successfully docked with INTELSAT 901 on 25th Feb 2020. Now locked together, the MEV-1 has been used to reposition the combined satellite to 332.5 deg East, where IS-903 communications payload is operational once again and providing service as normal to INTELSAT customers in the Atlantic Ocean Region.

Under the present contract, MEV-1 will remain attached for 5 years, providing INTELSAT 903 with 5 years of extended service life. After this, MEV-1 is expected to have sufficient fuel to further extend life, or to move on and extend the life of some other geostationary communications satellite. 

This has proved a cost effective way of extending the useful life of a satellite with its expensive communications payload.

...
This real picture above (from press release below) shows the view from MEV-1 looking towards INTELSAT 901 with the earth in the background. When the photo was taken, the distance from MEV-1 to INTELSAT 901 was about 80m. This is the first ever close up picture I have seen of a geostationary satellite.  Seen from the ground, geo satellites are hardly visible and you need a camera with long time exposure to detect a tiny 'non-moving' dot in the heavens.

...
This picture above (also from press releae but with my added annotations) shows a ground test of the Mission Extension Vehicle MEV-1 on the left being docked with a mock up INTELSAT 903 interface.  The face of the INTELSAT 903, with the thruster and circular disk, is the one that faces away from the earth, when in geostationary orbit.

This is the first time that two commercial spacecraft have docked in geostationary orbit.

More information:

About the docking, plus images and video:
Press release by Northrop Grumman about MEV-1 docking with INTELSAT 903

About the successful repositioning:
Press release by Northrop Grumman successful repositioning of INTELSAT 903 using MEV-1

Well done Northrop Grumman !

Best regards, Eric
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