back to article Northrop Grumman's MEV-2 gives Intelsat satellite a new lease on life until the next rescue in another five years

Northrop Grumman's second Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV) has docked with Intelsat's IS-10-02 satellite, potentially extending the life of the latter by five years. Launched in 2004, IS-10-02 delivers broadband and media services over Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and South America. Half of its Ku band payload is owned by …

  1. Alan Brown Silver badge


    MEV-3 ?

    1. Daedalus Silver badge

      Re: Hubble?

      Not with this vehicle. Hubble's problems are with failing gyros, crucial to it being able to point at one part of the sky for long periods. I doubt if MEV-3's attitude control is anything like as good. In addition, moving from geosynchronous orbit down to Hubble orbit would take too much fuel, probably more than it has available. Drifting from one part of geosynchronous orbit to another is cheap on fuel.

      In any case, Hubble is being superseded (or is that starved) by the James Webb scope. With a communications satellite, there's somebody's profit at stake. Hubble doesn't make a financial profit.

      1. mathew42
        Black Helicopters

        Re: Hubble?

        If you turn Hubble around, would it take clear photos of the planet? People might pay for the photos it takes.

        1. KittenHuffer Silver badge

          Re: Hubble?

          Hubble taking photos of the Earth doesn't work. It's looking at an area that is whizzing past way too fast. Shortest exposure time is 0.1 seconds in which time the Hubble has covered 700m. And it's not possible for the Hubble to slew fast enough to compensate.

          1. Julz Silver badge

            Re: Hubble?

            I wonder how KH-11’s and their ilk manage...

            1. KittenHuffer Silver badge


              You just design your camera for exactly that environment!


              Earth facing satellites have cameras that are designed to be taking images of something that close travelling past that fast whereas Hubble is designed to image stationary objects over very long periods of time ........

              Oh, why am I even bothering. I'll just ask someone far smarter than me. Please Mr Randall Munroe, can you explain what happens when you point Hubble at the Earth.


            2. Daedalus Silver badge

              Re: Hubble?

              In fact, at the time an ex-spook said something of the nature of "Imagine this pointed back at the Earth....", implying that his former employers were getting pictures in that exact manner.

  2. Steve K Silver badge

    That is an amazing pic

    That is a stunning pic, even given the resolution and the fact it is from an IR camera.

    It conveys the height of the orbit in a way that a diagram can't.

  3. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    How long can a MEV function ?

    No word on that. Apparently, if it's in chunks of five years, it should at least be able to function ten years, otherwise it wouldn't be very good for servicing multiple satellites.

    But I'd like to have more information on that. The wiki page hardly mentions any technical specs at all, and Grummans' site is only a polished marketing piece.

    Could anyone get some cold, hard numbers on this thing ?

    1. tony72

      Re: How long can a MEV function ?

      It has a design lifespan of fifteen years, according to this page. I'm not sure what the limiting factor is on the lifespan, I assume it's based on estimated fuel (edit: or I guess that should be reaction mass) usage, so depending how conservative their estimates are, perhaps they might still have an extra mission in the tank at the end.

    2. Jon 37 Silver badge

      Re: How long can a MEV function ?

      For the first one, they claimed 10 years planned lifespan, so two 5-year contracts.

    3. DS999 Silver badge

      Re: How long can a MEV function ?

      Probably the five year thing is a compromise between "long enough contract that you don't do very many risky docking procedures during its life" and "short enough that the owner of the client satellite can be assured that other than lack of fuel the satellite is otherwise expected to remain fully functional for the term of the contract".

      Satellites are built for a certain design life, and stuff like solar panels, batteries, etc. will slowly degrade over time so you can't keep a satellite that's run out of fuel functioning forever this way. But perhaps after five years Intelsat might decide to renew with MEV-2 for another term, if their satellite is still functioning well and there is still a need for what it is doing.

      Once Northrup feels more comfortable about the docking/undocking stuff they might be willing to accept shorter terms than five years.

  4. TeeCee Gold badge

    Yeeeees, but.

    How long before the MTBF of other componentry on the bird raises its ugly head?

    1. Jon 37 Silver badge

      Re: Yeeeees, but.

      All satellites have some redundancy. So they're unlikely to lose the whole thing. Even if they lose some capabilities due to failures, this may still be cost-effective, compared to building and launching a whole new satellite.

      1. Stephen May

        Re: Yeeeees, but.

        Eventually the TWTAs in the satellite will die, they have a finite life due to the electron beam source eventually eroding away. It will need wholesale replacement one day.

    2. DS999 Silver badge

      Re: Yeeeees, but.

      Hence the five year term, rather than the longer term that MEV-2's propellant will last. As stated above, outright failures of equipment on satellites are relatively rare, at least after they've been in service for a while. Things like solar panels and batteries degrade, but at a fairly well known rate so Intelsat probably has a pretty good idea of the overall health of all the components.

    3. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: Yeeeees, but.

      Can I interest you in buying the Deacon's One Hoss Shay? A fine vehicle it is!

  5. Teejay

    This is so incredibly cool. Picturing a pod docking onto a far away satellite automatically, connecting to some port behind a covering that has been closed for years. Like a battery pack for an aging mobile phone, but also with additional electronics. Of course, this is a huge market, not just for civilian, but also for military satellites.

  6. Klimt's Beast Would

    Piiiigs iiiiin Spaaaaace!

    Incredibly useful for extending the lives of very, very expensive military satellites too. Also targeting and carrying out close recon of others (shhh!).

    * A Miss Piggy in space suit icon please. HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY YA!

  7. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    Original estimated lifetime

    "Certainly, keeping the lights on a bit longer and putting off the expensive moment when a replacement must be launched is a double benefit."

    I understand the description as "win win" and the benefits of extending the life of the satelite, thus delaying the cost of launching a replacement, but if it's 17 years into a 13 year mission, surely they costed that out 20 years ago and expected to launch a replacement at least 4 years ago? Or was not really financially viable at the time of original launch? Or is just that sweating the assets means more pennies for the upper echelons of the company? What if it had failed sometime in the last 4 years, ie past it's sell-by date?

    1. Wexford

      Re: Original estimated lifetime

      I guess any deferment of capex gives you more funds to invest elsewhere in the current reporting period, or more importantly reduced reported expenditure against your income!

    2. mathew42

      Re: Original estimated lifetime

      At moment there is deep reluctance to launch communications / broadband satellites into geosynchronous orbits (GEO) because low-earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellations deliver lower latency (600ms versus 20ms), higher bandwidth and cheaper ground install as receiver dishes don't need to be precisely aligned.

      SpaceX Starlink are going to own the satellite internet market.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Original estimated lifetime

        Do they have plans for coverage outside the 50(ish) N/S band or are they planning on only grabbing the cherry and making the areas further N or S even less economic for the remaining players?

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