SpaceX to launch Northrop Grumman's robotic satellite repair spacecraft
Northrop Grumman's SpaceLogistics subsidiary has signed an agreement with SpaceX and Australian telecommunications company Optus to put its Mission Robotic Vehicle (MRV) spacecraft and Mission Extension Pod (MEP) into regular commercial service.
One frustrating aspect of modern space technology is that satellites are, at the end of the day, very expensive disposable items that are often tossed away even when they have many years of potential service life left. This is because every satellite is a self-contained device that is launched with everything it needs to keep it on station and functioning.
All of this is fine, but once the satellite's propellants run out or some vital component malfunctions, that's it. Even if every other part of the spacecraft is still good, an empty fuel tank or a glitchy antenna turns it into a costly lump of aluminum.
Based on Northrop Grumman's Mission Extension Vehicle-1 (MEV-1), the MRV in conjunction with the MEP changes this by providing the means to visit, repair, and replenish satellites. The MRV can dock with aging satellites and has a robotic arm for robotic repair operations and installation of the MEP, a propulsion augmentation device that can extend the service life of a 2,000-kg (4,409-lb) satellite in geosynchronous orbit by six years.
Under the new agreement, SpaceLogistics will provide the MRV to visit satellites owned and operated by Optus, which will purchase and operate MEPs for their craft. Meanwhile, SpaceX will provide the partners with launch services. The first launch is scheduled for 2024 and will include an MRV and several MEPs, one of which will be installed in an Optus D3 satellite in 2025.
According to Northrop Grumman this will be the first time a robotic spacecraft will remain on station in geosynchronous orbit to inspect and repair satellites, and to install MEPs.
"Our contracts with SpaceX and Optus are tangible evidence of our momentum and commitment to deliver second-generation on-orbit servicing technologies to the satellite industry," said Vice President of Business Development for SpaceLogistics Joseph Anderson. "We are thrilled to have Optus as our premier MEP customer as we continue pioneering the future of space and expanding the realm of what is possible with on-orbit servicing and sustainment."
Source: Northrop Grumman