CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – A communication satellite almost out of fuel has gotten a new life after the first space docking of its kind.
Northrop Grumman and Intelsat announced the successful link-up nearly 22,500 miles (36,000 kilometers) above Earth on Wednesday. It's the first time two commercial satellites have joined in orbit like this.
The recently launched satellite — Northrop Grumman's Mission Extension Vehicle, or MEV-1 — will serve as a guide dog of sorts for its aging Intelsat companion.
Company officials called it a historic moment for space commerce, akin to the three-spacewalker capture of a wayward Intelsat satellite 28 years ago.
“We're pushing the boundaries of what many thought would be impossible," said Tom Wilson, president of SpaceLogistics, a subsidiary of Northrop Grumman. "The impossible is now a reality. Today is a great example of that."
The Northrup Grumman satellite was launched from Kazakhstan in October. On Tuesday, it closed in on the 19-year-old Intelsat 901 satellite and clamped onto it. The duo will remain attached for the next five years.
This novel rescue was carried out at a slightly higher orbit to avoid jeopardizing other satellites if something had gone wrong. The Intelsat satellite was never designed for this kind of docking; officials said everything went well.
Once maneuvered back down into its operational orbit, the Intelsat satellite should resume operations in another month or two. MEV-1 will move on to another satellite in need once its five-year hitch is over.