International Launch Services (ILS) is continuing to plan out its future manifest by announcing two new missions via the signing of launch services contracts. The missions both involve EUTELSAT birds, via the first use of a first commercial contract incorporating the use of the newly announced Proton Medium rocket and the first commercial shared launch using a Proton Breeze M with the EUTELSAT 5 West B satellite and MEV-1.
Both missions are included under the Multi-Launch Agreement (MLA) announced by ILS – in cooperation with EUTELSAT – in October of last year.
The MLA was designed to provide EUTELSAT with “schedule flexibility and assured access to space at cost effective prices over a seven-year period”.
The first mission launched under the MLA was the Proton-M launch of the Eutelsat 9B satellite on January 30, 2016.
Adding to its range of mission capabilities, the Proton Medium vehicle was introduced last month, along with the Proton Light vehicle, during World Satellite Business Week in Paris.
The Proton vehicles are a product line extension of the commercial Proton Breeze M designed to expand the Proton addressable GEO market with competitive launch solutions in the small and medium satellite class range (3 to 5 metric tons).
The light and medium vehicles are two-stage versions of the Proton Breeze M launch system developed for exclusive commercial use by ILS.
The second of the two mission announced on Wednesday is baselined with the Proton Medium launch vehicle, with the launch to be conducted in the 2019-2020 timeframe. The identity of the satellite that will ride uphill on the Russian workforce was not revealed.
However, the first mission, set to launch late in 2018, will be the joint launch of the EUTELSAT 5 West B satellite and MEV-1.
EUTELSAT 5 West B is another telecommunications satellite, built on Orbital ATK’s GEOstar satellite platform, with a payload built by Airbus Defence and Space. This satellite is a key stablemate of the satellites launching under the MLA deal between the launch services company and the satellite operator.
The Orbital ATK MEV-1 (Mission Extension Vehicle-1) spacecraft will be riding as the lower passenger during this launch. This spacecraft will be testing life extension services for satellites in orbit.
Orbital ATK is manufacturing and testing what is the first Commercial Servicing Vehicle (CSV). After successfully completing a series of in-orbit tests, the MEV-1 will begin its mission extension service in 2019.
Based on its own GEOStar spacecraft bus platform, MEV-1 utilizes a reliable, low-risk docking system that attaches to existing features on a customer’s satellite.
The MEV-1 provides life-extending services by taking over the propulsion and attitude control functions. Satellites have an average of 15 years of life on orbit, before they need to be replaced.
The vehicle itself has a 15-year design life with the ability to perform numerous dockings and undockings during its life span.
“Rather than launching new satellites, operators can extend the life of healthy in-orbit satellites, providing enhanced flexibility through Orbital ATK’s scalable and cost-efficient capabilities,” noted Our simple approach minimizes risk, enhances mission assurance, and enables our customers to realize the maximum value of their in-orbit satellite assets.”
The launch of MEV-1 will involve in-orbit testing and a demonstration to be performed with an Intelsat satellite.
MEV-1 will then relocate to the Intelsat satellite scheduled for the mission extension service, which is planned for a five-year period. Intelsat will also have the option to service multiple satellites using the same MEV.
“We are delighted to partner with Intelsat to introduce this innovative new service to the commercial satellite market,” added David W. Thompson, Orbital ATK’s President and Chief Executive Officer. “The MEV-1 demonstrates the combined capabilities of Orbital ATK following the merger of our two legacy companies.
“The MEV-1 benefits from the capabilities in space logistics that both companies had developed. This new service is synergy at its best and presents an opportunity for Orbital ATK to open a new market in commercial space.”
“There is a vital need to service fully functional but ageing satellites in both commercial and government markets. We are just getting started in expanding our CSV fleet to provide a diverse array of in-space services in the future.”
Satellite rescue isn’t a new concept, with the early days of the Space Shuttle resulting in the use of the orbiter’s range of capabilities to breathe new life into troublesome spacecraft.
One such example came via Shuttle Endeavour’s STS-49 mission in 1992, which focused on a rendezvous with the Intelsat VI satellite – which was stranded and unusable in Low Earth Orbit following its launch on a Titan rocket in March 1990 when its launch system failed to place it in its correct, geostationary orbit.
To facilitate the repair of Intelsat VI, a spacewalk was planned in which two of Endeavours crewmembers would physically grab the satellite and attach a capture bar to the satellite. During the spacewalk to grab the satellite, all attempts to grab Intelsat VI and attach the capture bar failed.
The EVA was subsequently called off and rescheduled for the following day, and Endeavour backed away to safe distance.
The next day, after a re-rendezvous, all attempts to capture Intelsat VI and install the capture bar failed as well.
Then, on May 13, a third attempt to capture the satellite was made using three of Endeavours crewmembers.
Before capture of Intelsat VI, an Assembly of Station by EVA Methods (ASEM) structure was erected by the crew to assist in the satellites capture.
The EVA was successful: Intelsat VI was captured, the capture bar attached, a live rocket engine kit installed (a kit that would propel Intelsat VI into its correct orbit), and the satellite released back into orbit.
The EVA marked the first and, to date, only time in history that an EVA was conducted involving three people, the first and, to date, only time that a live rocket kit was attached to a satellite in space during an EVA, and the longest single EVA in history to that point – a record that would stand until STS-102 in March 2001.
While such missions were impressive, they were restricted to Low Earth Orbit, were highly complex and hugely expensive, to the point they soon lost their viability.
However, a more innovative, cheaper and safer option for aiding malfunctioning or aging satellites is the MEV concept. This enables mission extension for satellites that have run out of maneuvering fuel yet still have healthy payload and power systems.
Such a technology could possibly have been used to come to the rescue of the Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellite (AEHF-1).
Despite a nominal launch atop of an Atlas V in August, 2010, a failure of the satellite’s subsystem resulted in the AEHF-1’s hydrazine-fueled liquid apogee engine (LAE) failing to carry out the required burns to place it correctly into Geostationary Orbit.
Thanks to some clever work via the satellite’s United States Air Force controllers and AEHF-1 teams, the $2 billion bird was saved via the ingenious use of the two smaller engines – namely the hydrazine-fueled Reaction Engine Assemblies (REAs) and later by the xenon-fueled Hall Current Thrusters (HCTs) – despite their primary role being one of positional stability on orbit.
Orbital ATK’s Space Systems Division had already completed two prototype docking mechanisms that will reinforce the MEVs ongoing development back in 2013 as part of the path towards the in-space test.
According to the company, these prototypes demonstrate servicing capabilities to potential clients and will be used to validate contact dynamics and docking performance in the Orbital ATK RPO (Robitics) lab.
ATK also completed initial testing of closed loop proximity operations, demonstrating the ability to track a simulated host satellite using a prototype visual sensor suite.
(Images via ILS, Orbital ATK, ULA and L2 Historical)