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Orbital ATK producing spacecraft to extend satellite lives

Dulles-based Orbital ATK announced Monday the company has made significant progress on the first commercial in-space satellite servicing system.

Orbital ATK specializes in aerospace and defense technologies, designing, building and delivering space, defense and aviation systems. Its latest product, called The Mission Extension Vehicle-1 (MEV-1) spacecraft, completed a design review earlier this year and is now in production with about 75 percent of the platform and payload components already delivered to the company’s Satellite Manufacturing Facility in Virginia.

The MEV-1 will be able to perform life-extending services to satellites owned by Orbital's customers. Once in orbit the MEV-1 will take over the maintenance of the client's spacecraft. The vehicle has a 15-year design life with the ability to perform numerous dockings and repositionings during its life span.

Tom Wilson, president of space logistics for Orbital, said MEV-1 will be the first spacecraft of its kind to offer the innovative service.

“The start of assembly of MEV-1 means that in-orbit satellite servicing will soon become a reality,” Wilson said in a prepared statement.“This is just the first step toward introducing even more advanced space logistics capabilities in the future.”

Production work on the spacecraft will also take place in other U.S. locations. Orbital ATK’s spacecraft components division is manufacturing the structures, propellant tanks and solar arrays for the MEV-1 at locations in San Diego and Goleta, California. The Rendezvous, Proximity Operations and Docking (RPOD) laboratory located at the company’s headquarters in Dulles is testing the sensors, actuators and control algorithms which allow for the tracking, approach and docking with a client spacecraft.

Orbital ATK’s long-range plan is to establish a fleet of in-orbit servicing vehicles that can address diverse space logistics needs, including repair, assembly, refueling and in-space transportation. The company is also working closely with U.S. government agencies to develop technologies to support these services, such as advanced robotics.

The spacecraft will begin testing in spring 2018 with launch planned late next year. MEV-1 is slated to provide satellite life extension services to its anchor customer, Intelsat S.A., beginning in early 2019.

Ken Lee, Intelsat’s senior vice president of space systems, said MEV-1 will add to his company's strong track record of incorporating satellite technologies into its global operations.

“In-orbit servicing will enhance our flexibility, responsiveness to market opportunities and provide additional robustness to our global fleet,” Lee said in a prepared statement.


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