A probe lacking fuel has received a new life after it was docked in space by Northrop Grumman and Intelsat. The companies reported the successful docking about 22,500 miles (36,000 kilometers) above Earth on Wednesday.
This is the first time-ever two commercial satellites have been linked-up like this. The recently launched probe, which is Northrop Grumman’s Mission Extension Vehicle, or MEV-1, will be a guide for its older Intelsat pair.
“We’re pushing the boundaries of what many thought would be impossible,” said Tom Wilson, president of SpaceLogistics, a subsidiary of Northrop Grumman. “The impossible is now a reality. Today is a great example of that.”
The Northrup Grumman satellite was launched in October of 2019, and on Tuesday, it linked with the 19-year-old Intelsat 901 satellite. The pair will remain this way for the next five years. This new technique was performed at a higher orbit in order to prevent putting in danger the other probes if something had gone wrong. The Intelsat satellite was not designed for this type of link-up, but officials reported everything went well.
A ‘Solid Business Case’
After it is moved back to its usual orbit, the Intelsat probe is scheduled to resume operations in about a month or two. MEV-1 will be driven to another satellite facing issues after its five-year link-up is over.
Jean-Luc Froeliger, a vice president for Intelsat, said that the probe had just a few months of remaining fuel. It required help last year and was transferred into the higher orbit for the docking.
Officials refused to say how much the process cost or what the following help might cost. Intelsat CEO Stephen Spengler said that there was a ‘solid business case’ for engaging in the operation with five more years of life ahead for the probe.
This operation is similar to another Intelsat satellite that needed help closer to Earth. Northrop Grumman plans satellite refueling and other types of repairs in about five to ten years. Meanwhile, a second rescue probe will be launched sometime this year.