This article originally appeared in the June 4, 2018 issue of SpaceNews magazine.
Intelsat-901, a 17-year-old communications satellite running low on propellant, is awaiting a first-of-its-kind service call from a robotic spacecraft carrying a fresh tank of fuel.
Orbital ATK’s first Mission Extension Vehicle, MEV-1, is slated to launch in early next year on a groundbreaking mission to dock with Intelsat-901 and take over orbital station-keeping duties, extending the satellite’s service life by several more years.
But first the two spacecraft will spend two or three months in a graveyard orbit 300 kilometers above Intelsat-901’s geostationary neighbors conducting tests and demonstrating the pair can fly as a connected unit before climbing back down under MEV-1’s control and return to commercial service sometime in 2019.
It’s been just over two years since Intelsat — one of the world’s largest satellite fleet operators — signed on as the first customer for the satellite-servicing venture Orbital ATK revived under its SpaceLogistics subsidiary after its ViviSat joint venture with U.S. Space ended in a lawsuit.
In December, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission gave SpaceLogistics approval to rendezvous and dock with Intelsat-901, a Space Systems Loral-built satellite that’s being replaced by the high-throughput Intelsat-37e satellite ...