Gwynne Shotwell, Northrop Grumman’s MEV-1 Win Satellite Executive and Technology Awards for 2020

Photos via SpaceX and Northrop Grumman

SpaceX COO Gwynne Shotwell and Northrop Grumman’s Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV) won Via Satellite’s Satellite Executive and Technology of the Year awards for 2020. The winners, chosen by Via Satellite’s readers and editorial team, were unveiled during a virtual program on April 5 as a lead-in to this week’s LEO Digital Forum event. 

Shotwell’s win caps off a powerhouse 2020 for SpaceX, in which the company hit multiple record-breaking milestones. On the launch side, it broke its single-year launch record with 26 missions. The company also returned crewed spaceflight to the United States with the successful Crew Demo mission to the ISS in May 2020 in partnership with NASA

But SpaceX has grown beyond a launcher and is now a satellite operator with the largest on-orbit satellite fleet. SpaceX launched 14 Starlink missions in 2020, kicked off the Starlink beta program, and won more than $885 million in federal subsidies from the FCC to bridge the digital divide. 

“2020 — what a weird, and I would normally say, terrible year. The global community tried to figure out how to function and survive during a global pandemic. And yet, SpaceX was able to operate and do extraordinary things last year,” Shotwell said, accepting the award. “I’m going to accept this award, again in 2020 — not for myself — but for the extraordinary people at SpaceX that did such extraordinary things in such a weirdo year.” 

This is Shotwell’s second time receiving the honor, after she won in 2017 for SpaceX’s achievements in reusable rocket technology. This year, the scope of SpaceX’s reach is even greater. Shotwell is the second person to receive the award twice, following Iridum CEO Matt Desch.  

Desch congratulated Shotwell in a message on Twitter: “Any time you can share an honor with someone like Gwynne Shotwell is a good day, but today is her day. She’s such a fantastic choice for executive of the year — again.”

For Technology of the Year, Northrop Grumman and its SpaceLogistics LLC subsidiary were recognized for the first demonstration on mission extension services in Geostationary Orbit (GEO). In February 2020, MEV-1 docked with Intelsat 901, marking the first time two commercial satellites were docked in orbit. MEV-1 is under contract to provide five years of life extension services to the IS-901 satellite before returning the spacecraft to a final decommissioning orbit.

“With the docking of MEV-1 and as recognized by this award, it truly feels like our industry is crossing a threshold into Space 2.0, where satellite servicing becomes commonplace,” said Joe Anderson, vice president of SpaceLogisitics, accepting the award on Monday. “It is an honor to be recognized today, and for me to represent the hundreds of women and men at Northrop Grumman that are pioneering the future of space.” 

Northrop Grumman is now preparing for MEV-2, which was launched in August 2020, to soon dock with Intelsat 10-02.  

Anderson detailed how the company is also in production of second generation systems to introduce in-orbit, robotic servicing capabilities, which are scheduled for launch in 2024. Mission Robotic Vehicle (MRV) can install a mission extension pod onto a client vehicle. The mission extension pod is a propulsion-augmentation device that can provide six years of station keeping propulsion to a typical GEO satellite One MRV can install five to six of these extension pods each year, Anderson said. 

“Our mission extension vehicle stories started more than 10 years ago with the goal of introducing a cost effective, reliable, and safe method for extending the station keeping life of aging GEO satellites. In these past 10 years we have overcome the innovator’s dilemma, initiating a new space business. During this time, we not only developed the innovative MEV, but we also paved the way for those new types of space services through the regulatory and insurance worlds,” Anderson said.

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