back to article Mission Extension Vehicle-1 launches to save space from zombie satellites

International Launch Services (ILS) sent up a Proton rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome this morning with a payload containing the first commercial spacecraft designed to service and extend the life of satellites in orbit. The 10:17 UTC launch saw the EUTELSAT 5 West B satellite and Mission Extension Vehicle-1 (MEV-1) leave …

  1. Steve Aubrey
    Thumb Up

    Space work is becoming normal

    This is good. And it's a great time to be alive. This stuff was science fiction not too long ago.

  2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "a rescue makes more economic sense"

    I should think so. Launching a new satellite means building it, then risking losing it during the launch.

    This MEV tech means you can contract someone to repair, and if the MEV is lost its no skin off your back. Or is it that you buy a MEV and risk losing that ?


    So the question then is : which is less expensive to lose, a MEV or a new satellite.

    Space is a risky business.

    1. Shadow Systems Silver badge

      Re: "a rescue makes more economic sense"

      I had an even cheaper solution but it got shot down for some reason.

      I suggested just flinging lawyers, lobbiests, politicians, & telemarketers at the satelites to knock them into corrected positions. The flung fodder would then either continue off into space or would fall back to Earth & burn up on reentry- either way no loss to Humanity. We've got an infinite supply of the bastards & can afford to fling them until the HDotU.

      Catapults are cheap. Telemarketers are even cheaper. =-D

      1. sbt Silver badge

        The up shot...

        Sadly, lawyers and co are still people, and there is a lot of embodied economic investment there. Is there no way to safely disarm and redeploy these missiles of misery?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "lawyers and co are still people"

          Isn't that stretching the definition of the word "people" a bit far? They're most of a completely different species.

          1. phuzz Silver badge

            Re: "lawyers and co are still people"

            "Lawyers are like sperm, one in every hundred thousand has a chance of becoming a real human being"

      2. Alien Doctor 1.1

        Re: "a rescue makes more economic sense"

        You forgot to add telephone sanitizers and hairdressers.

    2. Graham Dawson Silver badge

      Re: "a rescue makes more economic sense"

      The idea is that multiple MEVs would be operating in orbit and be contracted to move satellites as needed.

    3. Anonymous Coward Silver badge

      Re: "a rescue makes more economic sense"

      "Or is it that you buy a MEV and risk losing that"

      More like buying a share in an MEV, or renting it - once it's done the job for you it can trundle off and do a job for someone else. If it can service 10 satellites per launch, it saves you 90% (ish)

      Having said that, it'd be even cheaper to have enough fuel on-board to manoeuvre yourself. It does facilitate a backup plan though.

    4. Robert Helpmann?? Silver badge

      Re: "a rescue makes more economic sense"

      So the question then is : which is less expensive to lose, a MEV or a new satellite[?]

      That is a question, yes, but not the only one. I would like to see a breakdown of costs and returns on a new satellite versus keeping an older one in orbit. Sooner or later, the law of diminishing returns will come into play, but I have no idea when that would be.

  3. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Stranger than fiction

    And we thought that Red Dwarf AA advert was science fiction...

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Stranger than fiction

      There's no such thing as science fiction anymore. Seems to now be science prediction.

      1. Spherical Cow Bronze badge

        Re: Stranger than fiction

        Unfortunately there are a lot of idiots who think science is fiction. Antivaxxers, flat earthers, climate change deniers, the list goes on. The depressing thing is that these idiots get so much air time.

  4. sbt Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    approach from behind

    That's a clever approach, design wise to adapt to units with differing shapes and sizes; to grab the nozzle which is going to be a more uniform shape and size, and is also designed as a thrust point.

    How about a reach around?

  5. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge


    MEV's have a bit of a habit of stirring up trouble with both fireball spitting rock snakes & an ancient collective AI system on Mars though.

    1. Wellyboot Silver badge

      Re: FAB

      That was all down to the trigger happy operators...

      1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

        Re: FAB

        I know that it was done for a feature film, with better budgets, but all of the Zero-X model making and filmography was absolutely superb for the time, and still stands up to some pretty close scrutiny when using freeze-frame on large TV's from DVD today, something that was never imagined at the time.

  6. JK63

    Could this be used for low earth orbit sats as well? I'm thinking specifically of attaching a MEV to the Hubble space telescope for a life extension.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Actually, it's the other way around. The docking unit was originally designed for Hubble, so yes, it could do that.

      1. Muscleguy Silver badge

        Except Hubble's problem is borked gyroscopes to control the mirror. Not sure how an MEV could fix that problem. It would need very, very fine attitude control on those electric thrusters at the very least.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Grabbing a handy nozzle

    I knew a girl like that once

  8. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

    I think I saw this in a movie once..

    Something about a volcano lair and a man with a thing for white Persian cats....

    Mines the kimono..

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: I think I saw this in a movie once..

      What kind of mine has seems of kimonos?

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: I think I saw this in a movie once..

        Just noticed that Pedant's Law applies - and I spelled seams wrong. Oops! Not that I was really being a pendant, I just liked the gag.

  9. duhmb

    We're saved!

    Could this be version 0.1a of the neo defence? After all it seems to be merely a matter of scale...

    1. John Mangan

      Re: We're saved!

      Only if the ELE-asteroid has a convenient rocket nozzle attached.

  10. Julz Silver badge

    Is It Just Me But

    When I see things like this in the commercial environment I kind of assume that the tech has been developed, and probably been superseded, in the military environment. Probably a cold war sort of attitude given the costs but I can't shake the feeling that this is a commercial venture spun out from a black project in order to generate some cash. Nice all the same but I wonder what the 'real' one does...

    1. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: Is It Just Me But

      "I wonder what the 'real' one does"

      It's a satellite that can grab onto another one and move it pretty much just that. There's just not much else that could be done.

      Sure, they could take a surveillance satellite and move it out of orbit, but you might as well just destroy it. Or you could try and move into a position to intercept it's ground communications, but that's so obvious that surely everyone uses encryption?

      1. ThatOne Silver badge

        Re: Is It Just Me But

        Why bother moving enemy satellites? First of all, the owner will know it happened and will want to retaliate (somehow).

        It's much easier to just send a small piece of metal in the right orbit and reduce the enemy satellite to smithereens. Nobody would be able to prove it wasn't an accident, no ground radar can see a lone steel bolt flying around AFAIK.

        1. Is It Me

          Re: Is It Just Me But

          It could have still been cold war design etc. but just as a way of keep their own satlelites up longer, so doing exactly what it does now but just for the secret squirrel stuff.

        2. rg287 Silver badge

          Re: Is It Just Me But

          First of all, the owner will know it happened and will want to retaliate (somehow).

          "Somehow" would be the easy bit - if the MEV grabs hold of the rocket bell, all the victim has to do is fire their engine. The MEV may not be thrown off (depends on grappling mechanism) but it's unlikely to come out of the encounter well. You may well damage your bird as well with such a tactic but some people would consider that preferable to having their satellite carried away by a third party.

        3. Inventor of the Marmite Laser Silver badge

          Re: Is It Just Me But

          @ThatOne: smithereens in orbit is not a good idea. Just gently (or aggressively if it struggles) deorbit it and allow lithospheric braking to do the rest.

          1. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

            Re: Is It Just Me But

            "...or aggressively if it struggles"

            Upvote for the anthropomorphisation

          2. ThatOne Silver badge

            Re: Is It Just Me But

            > smithereens in orbit is not a good idea

            I know, but it's the military we're talking about, then there is the plausible deniability: "No, it was clearly a freak accident, of course we would never do something like that". (Last, the nosy satellites are usually in quite low orbit, so debris aren't that big an issue, and they will clear out pretty quickly.)

    2. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge
      Black Helicopters

      Re: Is It Just Me But

      The real ones (for there are several) is called the X-37, it also has some form of stealth capability since it can move away from tracking and has multi year space capability. Further details are somewhat sketchy and probably involve black helicopters coming to visit whoever said anything.

  11. Simon Harris

    Can it re-orbit old Soviet era weapons platforms...

    Or are Clint Eastwood's, Donald Sutherland's and co's jobs still safe?

  12. Avatar of They
    Thumb Up


    Loving this, a fleet of basically "Wall-E's" flying round orbit cleaning up the mess.

    Few thoughts jump out.

    1. What if someone hacks one and grabs a US satellite and pushes it into Russia etc.

    2. What if any terrorist idiot hacks one and flies it into the space station.

    3 Brilliant if you want to grab a dead satellite and point at Earth, start the nose dive then MEV pulls up and the dead satellite burns up.

    1. ThatOne Silver badge

      Re: Brilliant

      > What if any terrorist idiot hacks one and flies it into the space station.

      He doesn't need a MEV, all active satellites have propulsion. Just hack any one of them, ideally one in a nearby orbit, and you're set. The point of the MEV is just to move satellites which can't move on their own anymore (out of fuel, dead), it's a tow truck.

    2. Muscleguy Silver badge

      Re: Brilliant

      The ISS would simply move out of the way as it does already in addition to keeping itself from descending and burning up in the atmosphere. It expect the current tracking systems protecting it would see even a rogue satellite coming in time.

      I further expect the chemical rockets on the ISS would be faster and more responsive than the electrical ones on an MEV as well. Also changing orbit quickly is not that easy so responding to the ISS's evasion would probably have to involve going around again, maybe a few times.

      It isn't a Turkey shoot.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2020