Northrop Grumman conducted a test last February in a test with a module that successfully coupled with an inactive satellite. Now, the company has managed to send a module called MEV – 2 that docked on an active satellite of Intelsat that has been in orbit for 17 years.
The module launched in August will extend the life of the satellite by refueling it and giving it a new control engine. The satellite was designed to operate for 13 years when it was launched and is used for telecommunications services.
The company says that in the coming years there will be an important market for such satellite “renovation” services, especially since, overall, it is cheaper to send such a “service” module than to launch new satellites.
After five years, the module will be able to detach from the satellite and can dock another to prolong its life.
However, the company is working on more advanced modules called Mission Extension Pods (MEP) which will be launched in 2024 and will provide much more complex services for satellites, being able to inspect them, make some repairs and even change some parts.
The goal would be for the satellites to be able to be produced and assembled in orbit in 10 years from now, which would change a lot the way they are built and used.
Sources: CNBC, space.com