Award Winning Blog

Sunday, March 1, 2020

The New York Times Errs in Coverage of Satellite Life Extension

Every once in a while, I spot an error in The New York Times and dutifully report it.  I have never received confirmation, much less a correction, even when I detected woefully wrong foreign currency conversions in the Travel section.  I did get a snarky email suggesting that I could not possibly have grounds to dispute the Times’ use of the inter-bank rate plus 2%.  Call me crazy, but travelers typically receive conversion well below the inter-bank rate.  The 2% figure should have been a reduction.

Recently, the Times reporters have not done an adequate job learning and explaining how the Intelsat 901 satellite will achieve a usable life extension from the Northrop Grumman MEV-1.  While future repair satellites will replenish so-called station keeping fuel inside the tanks of the satellite targeted for repair, the current MEV-1 latches onto the satellite and stays there for five years.

As explained by the manufacturer of MEV-1 (Northrop Grumman):

"MEV is designed to dock to geostationary satellites whose fuel is nearly depleted. Once connected to its client satellite, MEV uses its own thrusters and fuel supply to extend the satellite’s lifetime. When the customer no longer desires MEV’s service, the spacecraft will undock and move on to the next client satellite." See

The Sketchbook on page 3 of the Sunday March 1, 2020 edition incorrectly reported that the satellites will "part" in a month.  

If the Times reporters had done their homework more thoroughly, they might have come across accounts in Space News: "MEV-1 will remain attached to Intelsat-901 and use its own thrusters to keep the satellite properly oriented in orbit." See:

The MEV-1 takes over the functions of pointing the Intelsat satellite correctly down to earth and also that the MEV-1 will use its thrusters to keep the Intelsat satellite in the proper orbital parking place:

"The next day Northrop Grumman moved MEV-1 next to Intelsat-901 and docked with the satellite using a capture mechanism that went “through the throat” of Intelsat-901’s apogee engine, Anderson said." (also from Space News:

I am pretty sure I will not hear from a real person acknowledging and correcting mistakes in this newspaper of record.   What could I possibly know better than the Times reporters?