Starfish Space to extend Intelsat satellite life in first commercial mission

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell Jun27,2024

TAMPA, Fla. — Starfish Space aims to extend the operational life of a geostationary Intelsat satellite in 2026 after reaching a deal for its first commercial servicing mission.

Jean-Luc Foreliger, Intelsat’s senior vice president of space systems, said Starfish is in the middle of picking a rocket to launch its mini-fridge-sized Otter servicer between October 2025 and June 2026.

Starfish would first try to attach Otter to a retired Intelsat satellite parked in graveyard orbit, some 360 kilometers above the geostationary arc, to validate its approach and docking capabilities.

A space tug failure derailed the Kent, Washington-based venture’s plans to test docking technologies last year with its microwave-sized Otter Pup demonstrator.

Otter would then detach from the defunct spacecraft and lower itself to dock with an Intelsat satellite currently in service. The servicer would use its all-electric propulsion to keep this spacecraft in operational orbit, extending the life of a geostationary communications satellite typically designed to have enough fuel to last around 15 years. 

Foreliger declined to disclose the identities of the two target satellites but said the operational spacecraft currently provides a mix of broadband and broadcast services. Intelsat satellites are also typically at least 10 times larger than the Otter servicer. 

“The satellite that is targeted for life extension is a healthy satellite that is slowly running out of fuel,” he told SpaceNews, adding that the Otter service should enable Intelsat to extend its station-kept services “by several years.”

Financial details were not disclosed.

Announcing the Intelsat contract June 26, Starfish co-founder Trevor Bennett said it “will be the first of many Otters that will make on-orbit servicing a standard part of satellite operations,” without providing details.

Bennett founded the startup in late 2019 with Austin Link after they met while working as flight sciences engineers at Blue Origin.

The commercial agreement comes after Starfish secured a $37.5 million contract with the U.S. Space Force last month to develop, launch and operate Otter in geostationary orbit by 2026. 

Intelsat signed its first agreement for satellite life extension in 2016, using Northrop Grumman’s MEV-1 (Mission Extension Vehicle) to take and old spacecraft out of graveyard orbit and back into service.

The operator, which also contracted a second MEV to extend the life of an operational satellite under a recently extended agreement, is one of the customers for the Mission Robotic Vehicle (MRV), the latest servicer from Northrop Grumman’s SpaceLogistics subsidiary slated to launch next year.

However, few other satellite operators have signed up to in-orbit servicing missions to date. Intelsat said its Starfish contract will help foster a dynamic and competitive environment for the emerging market.

Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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