TAMPA, Fla. — Intelsat has ordered one of three fuel pods Northrop Grumman’s in-orbit servicing subsidiary is launching in late 2024 to extend the life of one of its geostationary satellites by at least six years, the operator announced April 13.
The company is still deciding which of the more than 50 satellites in its fleet will be equipped with a Mission Extension Pod (MEP) from SpaceLogistics, which plans to install it in 2026 using a Mission Robotic Vehicle (MRV) servicer with a robotic arm.
There is “a short list [of candidate satellites] but we haven’t decided,” Intelsat senior vice president of space systems Jean-Luc Froeliger said. “We have a few years to make the decision.”
The 3,000-kilogram MRV — the successor to the pair of SpaceLogistics Mission Extension Vehicles (MEVs) launched since 2019 to extend the lives of two Intelsat satellites that were running low on fuel — is slated to launch to geostationary transfer orbit along with three 400-kilogram MEPs on a SpaceX launch vehicle.
After the MRV and pods all make separate climbs to GEO orbit using onboard solar-electric thrusters, the MRV will capture the three pods and transport them to satellites needing fuel.
One of the three pods is intended for Australian satellite operator Optus, announced last year as SpaceLogistics’ first customer for the Mission Extension Pod service. If all goes to plan, the Mission Robotic Vehicle will install a pod on Optus D3 satellite in 2025.
SpaceLogistics has not announced a customer for the third fuel pod, but the company’s president, Rob Hauge, said it is as good as sold. “We are finalizing negotiations for a third MEP, “which will complete the first launch manifest,” Hauge said.
The company expects to install as many as 30 MEPs over MRV’s 10-year operational life.
Early last year, SpaceLogistics said six companies had signed term sheets to buy MEPs for a service it says is suitable for GEO satellites with a mass of around 2,000 kilograms.
The MEP propulsion “jetpack” service is designed to be more efficient and cheaper than the MEVs launched in 2019 and 2020 to give two Intelsat satellites fuel for another five years.
SpaceLogistics vice president Joe Anderson said the company is transitioning from MEV to a “lower-cost life-extension approach” using robotics to “expand our market potential” for in-orbit services. Prices have not been disclosed for MEV or MEP.
Intelsat is the first and currently only satellite operator that has employed commercial life extension services.