Intelsat Becomes Anchor Customer for MDA’s Orbital Refueling Plan

Intelsat Signs Up for Satellite Refueling Service
Space News

Satellite fleet operator Intelsat has agreed to be the inaugural customer for a novel system to refuel satellites in orbit being developed by MDA Corp. of Canada, agreeing to purchase one-half of the 2,000 kilograms of fuel that the spacecraft would carry into orbit for other satellites, industry officials said March 14.


Intelsat’s investment in the 1,000 kilograms of fuel is intended to add between two and four years of additional life to four or five otherwise healthy Intelsat satellites in geostationary orbit.

Richmond, B.C.-based MDA has been working on the technology for several years but has declined to make the needed capital investment, estimated at $300 million or more, until it had an anchor customer.

Luxembourg- and Washington-based Intelsat has now agreed to fill that role. While payments from Intelsat begin before launch, most of Intelsat’s investment would occur after confirming that its satellites have received a specific amount of propellant.

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PRESS RELEASE

LUXEMBOURG and VANCOUVER, BC, March 15, 2011 /CNW/ – Intelsat S.A., the world’s leading provider of fixed satellite services, announced today that it has entered into an agreement with MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (“MDA”) for the servicing of Intelsat’s on-orbit satellites via a space-based service vehicle to be provided by MDA. The innovative technology has the potential to extend the useful lives of Intelsat’s satellites and enhance in-orbit reliability. The services provided by MDA to Intelsat under this agreement are valued at more than US$280 million over the timeframe during which services will be delivered.

MDA plans to launch its Space Infrastructure Servicing (“SIS”) vehicle into near geosynchronous orbit, where it will service commercial and government satellites in need of additional fuel, re-positioning or other maintenance. MDA has selected Intelsat General Corporation as its exclusive channel to bring on-orbit services to the US Government.

The SIS vehicle is expected to be the first of its kind, utilizing a sophisticated robotics and docking system. This system will be based on work that MDA has previously performed for NASA, the Canadian Space Agency and various Department of Defense agencies. The SIS vehicle’s robotic arm will not only be used in refueling, but could also be used to perform critical maintenance and repair tasks, such as releasing jammed deployable arrays and stabilizing or towing smaller space objects or debris. Intelsat, the world’s largest operator of commercial satellites in the geosynchronous arc, is expected to provide flight operations support for the SIS vehicle for the life of the mission.

Under the terms of the agreement, MDA and Intelsat will work together to finalize specifications and other requirements over the next six months before both parties authorize the build phase of the program. The first refueling mission is to be available 3.5 years following the commencement of the build phase.

“On-orbit refueling and servicing is a game-changing innovation,” said Thierry Guillemin, Chief Technical Officer of Intelsat. “It is important for Intelsat, managing the largest commercial satellite fleet, to support technologies and tools that expand our capabilities in space. We intend to implement this technology as a tool in fleet management that will improve operational reliability, increase the return on our on-orbit assets, ensure good stewardship of the space environment and deliver this increased flexibility to our government customers as well.”

“We are very pleased to have Intelsat, the world’s leading provider of fixed satellite services, as the anchor customer for our new SIS offering and our partner in accessing the US government market,” said Dan Friedmann, President and CEO of MDA. “There is a clear need to service the world’s space infrastructure, both commercial and government. The combination of MDA’s unparalleled and proven space servicing capabilities and Intelsat’s commercial and government market presence is a good way to get this new service off the ground.”