How to Bring Dead Satellites Back to Life… Latch On With a New Engine

There’s a certain distance from the earth that qualifies a geosynchronous orbit (GEO), where active satellites hang out and do their thing. Once satellites die, typically from lack of fuel necessary to keep them in the right spot, they’re supposed to move to an outer ring, or junkyard, at least 300 kilometers (about 200 miles) above the GEO, giving operating satellites space and not clogging the interstellar freeway.

To be sure, most of the dead satellites can still perform their primary functions, they just can’t maneuver.

There are just over 900 crafts within 200 km of the GEO, so each craft has room, and another 283 satellites out in the junkyard. But there are 365 dead satellites that didn’t make the move from the active GEO to the junkyard. They aren’t a danger yet, but eventually, they will create a hazard for active satellites.

Now there’s a way to bring satellites back from the dead.

Jointly operated by NASA and Northrop Grumman, the Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV) attaches to a dead satellite and then acts as its propulsion system for five years. This gives the satellite a new lease on life until it can no longer serve its primary function, and also the ability to move to the junkyard once it’s done for good.

The first MEV, MEV-1, successfully docked with a dead satellite in February, and MEV-2 is scheduled to do so later this summer.

Way cool.

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