Intelsat signs up for Orbital'south satellite life-extension service

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Source:   —  April 13, 2016, at 2:39 AM

Orbital ATK plans to launch the first of a planned fleet of five robotic servicing vehicles in two thousand-eighteenth, its chief executive, David Thompson, told reporters at a press conference at the Space Symposium in CO Springs, Colorado.

Intelsat SA will be the first customer for Orbital ATK Inc’s new service that'll utilize robotic vehicles to fix damaged satellites in space, the companies said on Tuesday.

Orbital ATK plans to launch the first of a planned fleet of five robotic servicing vehicles in two thousand-eighteenth, its chief executive, David Thompson, told reporters at a press conference at the Space Symposium in CO Springs, Colorado. The satellite repair business is portion of a $1 billion investment by Orbital in future space technologies.

Orbital’s service vehicle will serve initially just as a jet backpack, extending the life of a satellite by providing an alternative maneuvering system.

Future satellite servicing vehicles, however, will be able to fix problems, such as unfurling a jammed solar array, refueling satellites and even assembling satellites in orbit, Thompson said.

Intelsat will pay Orbital an undisclosed quantity for five years when Orbital’s Mission Extension Vehicle, or MEV, is attached to its working spacecraft, Intelsat Chief Executive Stephen Spengler said at the press conference.

Orbital’s spacecraft will first head to a defunct Intelsat satellite to demonstrate its skill to attach itself. It'll then undock, fly to an operational Intelsat spacecraft that's running low on fuel and reattach itself, kicking off a five-year service contract with Intelsat.

Intelsat hasn't yet identified which of its forty-nine satellites will host the MEV.

“Having the skill to add five years or more on any specific satellite … provides an enormous quantity of fleet flexibility. The economic cost of this is to enhance the income stream over longer periods,” Spengler said.

Once Intelsat is finished with the MEV, it can move on to service another customer’s satellite, Tom Wilson, president of Orbital’s new Space Logistics, LLC subsidiary, told Reuters.

The servicing satellite is destined to stay operational for fifteen to sixteen years, Wilson said.

With about two hundred commercial communications satellites in orbit, the market for satellite life extensions is “already sizeable and one that'll grow considerably over the following decade,” Thompson said.

While Orbital’s new business is aimed initially at commercial satellite operators, the company expects the U. S. government will be interested in its services as well.

(Reporting by Irene Klotz; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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