Orbital ATK Unveils Satellite-Refueling Spacecraft

Orbital ATK [OA] announced March 13 that it is developing a robotic spacecraft that will carry up to 12 pods to refuel satellites on orbit.

The Mission Robotic Vehicle (MRV) will approach a satellite that is healthy but low on fuel. It will then deploy a Mission Extension Pod (MEP), which will attach to the satellite and provide up to five years of fuel. 

Artist's rendering of an MRV carrying MEPs (right) approaching a client satellite (left). (Orbital ATK image)

Artist's rendering of an MRV carrying MEPs (right) approaching a client satellite (left). (Orbital ATK image)

Once the MRV has dispatched all of its MEPs, a new set of pods could be launched to replenish the carrier vehicle, said Tom Wilson, president of SpaceLogistics, an Orbital ATK subsidiary. The MRV will also be able to perform “rudimentary repairs” and close-up inspections of satellites.

The MRV-MEP system will operate in geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO) and is designed to serve both commercial and government satellites, including defense spacecraft.

Orbital ATK plans to launch the first MRV-MEP system in the fourth quarter of 2021. Customers will be announced in the next few months, Wilson told reporters after speaking at the Satellite 2018 conference. Orbital ATK foresees demand for 30 MEPs over the next eight years.

The announcement came as Orbital ATK is gearing up to launch its first on-orbit satellite servicing system, the Mission Extension Vehicle-1 (MEV-1), late this year. MEV-1 is supposed to extend the service life of an Intelsat [I] communications satellite in GEO by docking with it and taking over its propulsion and attitude control.

A second MEV (MEV-2), whose initial customer is also Intelsat, is scheduled to lift off in early 2020. Each MEV is expected to last for 15 years, giving it the ability to service multiple satellites during its life span.

Unlike the larger MEV, the MEP will not be able to perform attitude control. Having both MEV and MRV-MEP will “give our customers the option to select exactly the kind of life extension or in-space repair they may need,” Wilson said.

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