When Joe Anderson first informed ROOM readers of SpaceLogistics’ intentions to pioneer the market for satellite servicing in his article ‘Extending the life of geostationary orbit satellites, (ROOM #21, Autumn 2019), the company’s MEV-1 was just about to launch from Baikonur, in Kazakhstan, in what turned out to be a picture-perfect launch. Here, he provides an update on the mission and a personal view from mission control.
Imagine, for a moment, a scene from a science fiction movie: 36,000 kilometres over the sunlit Pacific Ocean, two satellites glide toward each other through the inky blackness of space. One of these satellites is nearly 20 years old and after a long, productive lifetime beaming television signals to millions of customers, it has run out of fuel and is drifting in orbit. The other, a brand new satellite, is the first of its kind: a servicing spacecraft designed specifically to rendezvous and dock with other satellites.
A room full of engineers, scientists and technicians watch a live feed from the servicer as it slowly approaches the communications satellite, centimetre-by-centimetre, over a period of hours, as they orbit the Earth at more than 11,000 km/hr. Every few seconds, the screens in mission control are updated with new images from one of the servicer’s three imaging systems: visible, infrared, and laser radar (LIDAR). Meanwhile, the servicer’s flight computer builds a model of the relative positions in space, constantly updating it as the servicer creeps ever closer.