March 2019 – Satellite Servicing Becomes an Actual Market – Via Satellite

March 2019 – Satellite Servicing Becomes an Actual Market – Via Satellite

Even as we enter the age of smaller, cheaper, and more agile satellite networks, present and future satellite communications services will continue to rely on well-stocked fleets in orbit. While this has remained fact for some time, commercial satellite operator business models have changed drastically (and often) during the past decade. It is no longer sustainable for operators to throw away depleted spacecraft and build replacements to fill in the gaps. It’s difficult enough operating a satellite at a fixed position in Geostationary Orbit (GEO). Prime real estate spots are limited, prone to physical disturbance and interference, and heavily regulated. The main reason that operators retire dozens of satellites to graveyard orbits every year is because they simply run out of fuel. To state the obvious, the ability to re-fuel in orbit saves an incredible amount of time and money. What’s not so obvious is what operators would do with their re-purposed assets. Are recycled satellites merely gap-fillers, revenue generators, or both?

In one of the biggest satellite manufacturing acquisitions in recent memory, Northrop Grumman bought Orbital ATK last year and inherited its state-of-the-art satellite servicing capabilities. In 2016, Orbital ATK scored a significant endorsement of its servicing technology from one of the largest satellite fleet operators in the world — Intelsat. Just before the Northrop Grumman acquisition, Intelsat Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Stephen Spengler publicly endorsed Orbital’s in-orbit repair and refuelling service during an appearance at SATELLITE 2018, and stated that the operator was contracting Orbital for two Mission Extension Vehicles (MEV-1 and -2) — spacecraft based on the GEOStar satellite bus. The MEV vehicles will attach to a customer’s satellite and extend its life by taking over the orbit and attitude control functions. It is capable
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