Mission Robotic Vehicle (MRV) with NASA Arm to reach satellite

MEV being built

Aviation giant Northrop Grumman already has two Mission Extension Vehicles in orbit providing services for two satellites that were running low on fuel. They are preparing to launch a new servicing vehicle equipped with a robotic arm that will install new components, like propulsion jet packs, to revive dying satellites. The new tech is called a mission extension pod and changes satellite life expectancy.

Northrop Grumman made history in February 2020 when it successfully docked its first Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV), reactivating a communications satellite. Rescuing it from a graveyard orbit, where we park old satellites.

Further, 6 undisclosed customers are signing up for satellite service by the Mission Robotic Vehicle, beginning in 2024. It’s a second-generation vehicle from Space Logistics. They are a subsidiary of Northrop Grumman.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is sharing its robotic arm with Space Logistics under a partnership. “With these six customers, the MRV manifest is currently filled through mid-2026,” said Space Logistics VP Joe Anderson. The company is expecting MRV to have a 10-year service life.

Anderson explained that the commercial MEVs can perform more than just docked repair like what they’re doing for Intelsat. They can also dock with satellites in inclined orbit to reduce their inclination, relocate satellites to other orbits, or perform remote inspections using LIDAR sensors.

Today Northrop Grumman/Space Logistics is focusing on geostationary satellite servicing but sees a future market in low Earth orbit. Orbit Fab, a startup developing a fueling port for satellites, announced Sept. 7 that both Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin are investing in the company. Both Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin are actively working to shape a market for gas stations in space.  Talk about science fiction coming to life!

Artist’s concept of satellite service station

In addition, Anderson said the U.S. Space Force and the Defense Innovation Unit are funding programs to add fueling ports to satellites.

Satellite service was a far-fetched or dangerous idea for a long time. For example, a minor crash hurling thousands of pieces of debris through critical space lanes. (Think GRAVITY) In zero gravity, an inch-long piece of metal becomes a deadly missile, traveling thousands of miles per hour, that can slice through a satellite. Or the International Space Station —in a split second.

At last, private-public partnership is achieving the kind of precision that makes this both possible and safe. And with roughly 7,000 satellites in orbit, there’s no shortage of potential customers.

Free Satellite VR

Northrop Grumman showcasing the boundary pushing satellite technology in AR

Typically, only mission personnel in the control room back on Earth have a good view of what’s happening on a mission. For the first time, Northrop Grumman is inviting everyone to witness firsthand what in-orbit servicing looks like from space, via the company’s new augmented reality experience, Portals to Space. For tablet or smartphones.

Scifi.radio first reported on Space based VR here.


David Raiklen
David Raiklen

David Raiklen wrote, directed and scored his first film at age 9. He began studying keyboard and composing at age 5. He attended, then taught at UCLA, USC and CalArts. Among his teachers are John Williams and Mel Powel.
He has worked for Fox, Disney and Sprint. David has received numerous awards for his work, including the 2004 American Music Center Award. Dr. Raiklen has composed music and sound design for theater (Death and the Maiden), dance (Russian Ballet), television (Sing Me a Story), cell phone (Spacey Movie), museums (Museum of Tolerance), concert (Violin Sonata ), and film (Appalachian Trail).
His compositions have been performed at the Hollywood Bowl and the first Disney Hall. David Raiken is also host of a successful radio program, Classical Fan Club.