A Simple Docking Mechanism For Increasing Satellite Life
Compiled by: C.D. Sridhara, Head ATD, SMG, ISAC
Large telecommunication satellites typically cost in excess of $250 million to place in orbit, with an average useful on-orbit life of 10-15 years. Once their on-board propellant has been depleted, the satellites are boosted into a disposal orbit and decommissioned, even though their revenue-generating communications relay payloads are still functional.
Orbital Life Extension Vehicle (OLEV), a new-generation spacecraft will significantly prolong the operating lifetimes of these valuable telecommunications satellites. In addition, the OLEV can be deployed to “rescue” satellites stranded in incorrect orbits as the result of launch vehicle failures – moving the spacecraft to its intended revenue-generating orbital slot.
After launch, the OLEV will operate as an orbital "tugboat" – supplying the propulsion, navigation and guidance to maintain telecom satellites to their proper orbital slots for up to 12 additional years. With its ability to dock/undock up to five times, a single OLEV can be used to service one or several satellites.
OLEV is designed to easily mate with the majority of three-axis stabilized telecommunications satellites now in space or planned – and is optimized for spacecraft with a dry weight of approximately two metric tons.
After launch, the OLEV will rendezvous with the satellite, approaching it from above for docking. After fine alignment, it will link up using a special docking tool that connects to the telecommunication satellite's apogee kick motor. The nozzle of the AKM provides a strong, easily accessible interface point for the linkup that is aligned with the satellite's center of gravity.
The docking tool, a grappler screw rod, which extends out from the OLEV, will enter the nozzle of the Apogee kick motor and extends its fangs such that it is rigidly fixed to the satellite to be serviced. Nearly every telecommunications satellite makes use of apogee kick motor for orbital boost and station keeping.
Courtesy: Orbital Satellite Services, Ltd