Space junk is difficult to avoid completely when satellites can only carry a lot of fuel, but that will not be a problem any longer. Northrop Grumman and NASA launch a “first-of-its-kind” vehicle refueling vehicle, the Mission Extension Vehicle, on 9 October on board a Russian rocket.
The first MEV-1 will connect to an Intelsat satellite within three months and provide services that will extend the life of five years. After that, he should be free to help other satellites, he will still have 10 years of fuel.
A second spacecraft, MEV-2, will help another Intelsat satellite by 2020 and should have the same amount of fuel. Both MEVs are also flexible. They can connect to 80% of today’s geostationary satellites, even if they are not designed to be used.
If the SRM program increases, NASA could buy its services in the future. The agency is working on its own in-orbit service technology, such as refueling satellites in low Earth orbit.
Refueling vehicles like this could be vital in the future. They would reduce the need to replace satellites, of course, but they could also allow missions that would not be practical with the life of existing satellites.
Scientists could carry out longer-term studies, for example. While satellites ideally do not need fuel in the first place, this is a step forward to make them more sustainable.