US company to launch one satellite to dock with another

(ORDO NEWS) — There are many satellites in Earth orbits. And these satellites are expensive. Therefore, it is cheaper to try to extend their life than to start new ones.

Previously, some satellites could tow other, non-working vehicles to the “burial orbit”. Also, Northrop Grumman’s MEV (Mission Extension Vehicle) vehicles had the ability to dock in geostationary orbit to satellites that ran out of fuel to extend their lifespan. Space Logistics, which is owned by Northrop Grumman, has improved this method with MRV and MEP.

This is how MEP will be attached thanks to MRV: watch the video

What is MRV and MEP

A variety of satellites that are located in geostationary orbit are expensive and not eternal. When their lifespan comes to an end (in other words, they run out of fuel), they move on their own to a higher orbit, which is called a “burial orbit”.

They need to launch a new device to replace them, and this is expensive. Therefore, it is possible to launch a small spacecraft that docks with a geostationary satellite and actually turns into an engine, using its own fuel supply to maintain orientation and orbit. This is how the MEVs worked.

US company to launch one satellite to dock with another 2                                                                               This is what the MRV will look like

Probably, Space Logistics thought that this was not very efficient. Why launch one spacecraft that can extend the life of just one satellite? Wouldn’t it be easier and cheaper to launch a satellite that would extend the lifetime of many geostationary satellites? This is where MRV and MEP come into play.

  • MRV (Mission Robotic Vehicle) is a satellite that is equipped with a robotic arm. It will use durable electric thrusters to change orbit. The weight of the device is about 3 thousand kilograms. It is the MRV that will rendezvous with satellites in geostationary orbit.
  • MEP (Mission Extension Pods) is a kind of “jetpack”, weighing about 400 kilograms. The MRV will grab the MEP with its robotic arm, tow it to the desired geostationary satellite, and attach it to it. MEP, like MEV, will act as an engine that can increase the life of a two-ton vehicle by 6 years.

US company to launch one satellite to dock with another 3                                                                             This is what the MEP will look like

With one launch in 2024, an MRV and three MEPs will be launched into low Earth orbit.

  • The MRV will first grab one engine and attach it to the first satellite, then return for the next.
  • Interestingly, the MRV will be able to operate in space for about 10 years, which means that subsequent launches of launch vehicles will only be able to launch MEPs into space, and even three at a time.

In this way, Space Logistics will significantly increase the efficiency of satellite life extension missions, speed up their turnaround time, and likely make them cheaper.

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