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copyright SpaceX Image caption An evening launch for the Falcon rocket and
its Inmarsat passenger
Inmarsat, the UK’s biggest space company, has boosted its
global broadband network with the launch of a fourth
The I-5 F4, which will service the voice, video and data needs
of remote and on-the-move customers, was taken into orbit by a
SpaceX Falcon-9 rocket.
It is the first time the London company has used the American
The rocket and its payload lifted away from Florida’s Kennedy
Space Center at 19:21 local time (00:21 BST, Tuesday).
The I-5 F4 was ejected from the upper-stage of the Falcon some
32 minutes later.
At 6 tonnes, the satellite was on the limit of the rocket’s
performance, meaning SpaceX had no spare propellant to follow
its usual practice of landing the vehicle’s first-stage back on
Earth after the mission. The booster was allowed instead to
fall back uncontrolled over the Atlantic.
Inmarsat has not made it clear precisely where or how it will
use the new satellite.
The firm already has three Ka-band spacecraft delivering its
Global Xpress broadband service to customers worldwide.
These clients include ships, oil and gas platforms, armed
forces and the media – users who need telecommunications away
from a fixed line.
CEO Rupert Pearce told BBC News that the new “bird” would act
in the first instance as a quick-response spare to fill in
behind the primary satellites, should one of them unexpectedly
experience a failure.
But it was inevitable, he said, that with ever-increasing
demand for capacity, the I-5 F4 would ultimately be deployed to
exploit new market opportunities. “You could say it’s something
of a ‘Swiss Army Knife’ for us, and that’s a nice position to
be in,” he added. “I expect we’ll become clear on the early
business applications of the satellite around the end of the
Inmarsat owns a number of orbital slots in the geostationary
arc some 36,000km above the equator and so is under no pressure
to say now exactly where the satellite will be stationed.
Image copyright INMARSAT/BOEING
Image caption The I-5 F4 being prepared for launch: It is
a “Swiss Army Knife” in Inmarsat’s business plans
This is a busy period for the London-based satellite operator.
Next month will see the launch of an S-band spacecraft which
will work in tandem with ground antennas to provide wifi
services onboard aeroplanes.
This project, which is a joint venture with Deutsche Telekom,
will be the first hybrid space-terrestrial telecommunications
network in Europe.
Providing in-flight services has become a key battleground for
satellite operators and promises large growth opportunities in
the years ahead.
Space analysts Euroconsult estimate that current revenues from
in-flight connectivity of $1bn a year could top $6.5bn by 2026.
The industry leaders in this sector – such as Inmarsat, Gogo,
Intelsat, SES, and ViaSat – are all investing heavily in
systems that will allow passengers to use their mobile devices
in the cabins of planes.
“There’s a huge amount of effort going on at Inmarsat right now
to make sure we take a meaningful bite out of this market
because it’s market share that will be determined in the next
couple of years. So now is when you’ve got to participate,” Mr
Inmarsat’s S-band spacecraft was supposed to be being launched
on a Falcon Heavy rocket, a beefed up version of the Falcon-9.
But delays in the vehicle’s development led to Inmarsat
transferring the mission to a European Ariane-5 rocket instead.
Nonetheless, Mr Pearce said he was delighted to fly SpaceX for
the first time, and looked forward to the occasion when an
Inmarsat satellite would go up on one of the American
provider’s “second-hand” rockets.
“I’d like to see a longer track record of refurbished rockets
being launched successfully without problems,” the CEO told BBC
“At the moment, we don’t put up satellites in sufficient
numbers to be relatively sanguine about losing one. But I’m
very encouraged by what I’ve seen in recent months, and once we
feel that refurbished rockets are essentially the same as new
rockets – we’ll jump onboard and extend our relationship with
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