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Docking gives telecoms satellite new lease of life

Image copyright Northrop Grumman Image caption MEV-1 approaches Intelsat-901 with Earth in the background Two American satellites have docked high over the Atlantic in a demonstration of what many commentators expect to be a burgeoning new industry.One of the platforms is an old telecoms spacecraft low on fuel; the other is an auxiliary unit that…

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Northrop Grumman

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MEV-1 approaches Intelsat-901 with Earth in the background

Two American satellites have docked high over the Atlantic in a demonstration of what many commentators expect to be a burgeoning new industry.One of the platforms is an old telecoms spacecraft low on fuel; the other is an auxiliary unit that will now take over all the former’s manoeuvring functions.This will allow Intelsat-901 to extend its 19-year mission of relaying TV and other services by another five years.The event has been described as a major accomplishment by the firms involved.Northrop Grumman, which produced the Mission Extension Vehicle-1 that grabbed hold of Intelsat-901, said it was the first time two commercial satellites had come together in this way at an altitude of just over 36,000km.

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Northrop Grumman

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MEV-1 images Intelsat-901 as it gets closer

MEV-1 will now push IS-901 to an equatorial position at 27.5 degrees West so it can resume telecoms duties in late March or early April.The satellite industry has been talking for some time about a capability to carry out in-orbit servicing and re-fuelling of ageing spacecraft, and even to bring defunct assets out of the sky altogether. But the Northrop Grumman/Intelsat arrangement is really the first commercial initiative to bear fruit. The docking occurred on Tuesday at 02: 15 EDT (07: 15 GMT), approximately 300km above the geosynchronous arc from where most telecoms satellites relay their data.

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Northrop Grumman

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The docking involved pushing a probe into IS-901’s engine nozzle

This permitted MEV-1
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