The Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV) is a spacecraft concept proposed by ViviSat. ViviSat was a 50/50 joint venture of aerospace firms U.S. Space and ATK created in 2010 for the purpose of designing, producing and operating the MEV-program. The purpose of the MEV-spacecraft is to operate as a small-scale in-space satellite-refueling spacecraft.
Since the original conception of the MEV-program by the ViviSat-company, the Vivisat-venture has been shut down and the company dissolved by ATK (one of the partners in Vivisat) in April of 2016. The MEV-program has continued as a solo-project of ATK. ATK has been since purchased by Northrop Grumman in 2018, and is now Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems. The MEV-program continues under Northrop Grumman.
ViviSat proposed the Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV) concept in 2011. At that time, the project was planned to be a 50/50 joint venture of aerospace firms U.S. Space and ATK, to operate as a small-scale in-space satellite-refueling spacecraft. In the joint venture, ATK was to be responsible for the technical design, production and operation of the satellite, and US Space would be responsible for the financing and business-side of operations.
In the timeframe 2013-2016, the partners ATK and US Space fell out concerning the joint ViviSat-venture. The situation ended with ATK (which in the mean time in 2015 had merged with Orbital Sciences to become Orbital ATK) taking control and dissolving the ViviSat-company on 5 April 2016. The MEV-program continued as ATK-only project.
In December 2017, the US telecommunications regulator approved a plan submitted by OrbitalATK to use an MEV to service an Intelsat satellite, Intelsat 901, that was originally launched to geostationary orbit in June 2001 for a planned in-service life of 13 years. That satellite has already been replaced in orbit. The first MEV, MEV-1, is planned to launch with Eutelsat's 5WB commsat, no earlier than 2019. MEV-1 will also need a licence from National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
In 2018, the Orbital ATK was acquired by Northrop Grumman to become Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems. The MEV-program continues under this new company.
MEV-1 was set to launch on a Russian Proton-M rocket along with Eutelsat 5WB satellite on 30 September 2019, but the launch was postponed to 9 October 2019 due to issues with the integration of control systems of Briz-M orbit insertion stage and the satellites. MEV-1 was launched on 9 October 2019.
Technical capabilities and competition
ViviSat was to compete for space servicing business with the 2011 announcement of the Space Infrastructure Servicing (SIS) vehicle from MDA. However, the two vehicles intended to operate with different technology approaches. ViviSat would connect to the target satellite in the same way as MDA SIS, but not transfer fuel. It would rather use "its own thrusters to supply attitude control for the target."
In a June 2012 article in The Space Review, a number of approaches to satellite servicing were discussed. ViviSat's Mission Extension Vehicle was reported to operate at the "less complex" end of the technology spectrum, which could offer higher reliability and reduced risk to satellite owners.
ViviSat believed their approach was simpler and could operate at lower cost than MDA, while having the technical ability to dock with "90% of the 450 or so geostationary satellites in orbit," whereas MDA SIS can dock to only 75%.
"In addition to extending the life of an out-of-fuel satellite, the company could also rescue fueled spacecraft like AEHF-1 by docking with it in its low orbit, using its own motor and fuel to place it in the right orbit, and then moving to another target."
- ConeXpress — an ESA concept vehicle to perform the same mission
- Orbital Express — a 2007 U.S. government-sponsored mission to test in-space satellite servicing technologies with two vehicles designed from the start for on-orbit refueling and subsystem replacement.
- Propellant depot
- "ViviSat Corporate Overview". company website. ViviSat. 2009. Retrieved 2011-08-26.
- Morring, Frank, Jr. (2011-03-22). "An End To Space Trash?". Aviation Week. Retrieved 2011-03-21.
ViviSat, a new 50-50 joint venture of U.S. Space and ATK, is marketing a satellite-refueling spacecraft that connects to a target spacecraft using the same probe-in-the-kick-motor approach as MDA, but does not transfer its fuel. Instead, the vehicle becomes a new fuel tank, using its own thrusters to supply attitude control for the target. ... [the ViviSat] concept is not as far along as MDA.
- Foust, Jeff (2012-06-25). "The space industry grapples with satellite servicing". Space Review. Retrieved 2012-07-04.
- "ATK Press Release". ATK Announces Plan to Create Two Independent, Publicly Traded Companies Committed to Leadership in Outdoor Sports and Aerospace and Defense. 29 April 2014. Archived from the original on 20 February 2015. Retrieved 20 February 2015.
- FCC begins approval of Orbital ATK satellite-servicing mission for Intelsat-901 5 Dec 2017
- Ракету "Протон-М" со спутниками установили на стартовый стол [Proton-M rocket with satellites erected at launch pad]. RIA Novosti РИА Новости (in Russian). 5 October 2019. Retrieved 5 October 2019.
- Northrop Grumman [@northropgrumman] (10 September 2019). "MEV-1, scheduled to launch September 30, will provide five years of life extension to the @INTELSAT 901 satellite. Learn more about MEV: ms.spr.ly/6012TPE0C #NorthropGrumman #WSBW" (Tweet). Retrieved 14 September 2019 – via Twitter.
de Selding, Peter B. (2011-03-18). "Intelsat Signs Up for MDA's Satellite Refueling Service". Space News. Archived from the original on 2012-03-21. Retrieved 2011-03-20.
more than 40 different types of fueling systems ... SIS will be carrying enough tools to open 75 percent of the fueling systems aboard satellites now in geostationary orbit. ... the SIS spacecraft is designed to operate for seven years in orbit but that it is likely to be able to operate far longer than that. Key to the business model is MDA’s ability to launch replacement fuel canisters that would be grappled by SIS and used to refuel dozens of satellites over a period of years. These canisters would be much lighter than the SIS vehicle and thus much less expensive to launch.
- "ATK: Introducing the expanded product line of agile spacecraft buses". Space News. 2012-08-13. pp. 16–17.
- U.S. Space official website