The 70th launch of the European Ariane 5 rocket from the spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, went without a glitch

Most advanced telecomms satellite Alphasat launched

Inmarsat is ready to foster its services worldwide after Alphasat, the world's most advanced telecommunications satellite and a product of pan-European cooperation reaches orbit.  

Shortly before 9pm BST on Thursday evening, the European Ariane 5 rocket lifted off from the European Spaceport in Kourou, French Guyana, with a precious payload aboard – the £227m Alphasat I-XL telecommunication satellite.

Hailed as the most advanced telecommunication satellite and also the largest ever built in Europe, the 6.6-tonne giant, had several stakeholders across Europe nervously watching the take-off – the 70th of the European heavy launch vehicle Ariane 5. And as all 54 previous Ariane 5’s launches in the past ten years, the one with Alphasat aboard went without a glitch.

27 minutes and 45 seconds into the flight the satellite successfully separated from the rocket, by then reaching the geostationary transfer orbit some 36,000km above the Earth’s surface. About two and half hours later, the team responsible for the launch and early orbit operations confirmed first telemetry data has been received, establishing command of the satellite.

The satellite, purchased by London-headquartered telecommunications company Inmarsat, will expand the company’s broadband network, covering Europe, Africa and the Middle East, offering over 750 L-Band channels in the mobile communications spectrum.

“The launch demonstrates Inmarsat’s long-term commitment to L-band services, and marks a significant milestone in the evolution of our flagship satellite fleet, bringing new capabilities both in terms of performance and resource availability,” said Rupert Pearce, Chief Executive Officer of Inmarsat.

Designed and built by a team led by Astrium and the European Space Agency (ESA), Alphasat is the first satellite to take advantage of Alphabus - the new European platform for heavy geostationary satellites designed to meet the increasing demand for broadcasting services.

Developed under ESA’s ARTES 8 satellite programme, the Public Private Partnership that jointly worked on the project has been the largest ever in the history of European space industry.

“Alphasat is a successful combination of different partnerships: between ESA and the French national agency, CNES, to develop Alphabus, the satellite’s platform; between two major European companies, Thales Alenia Space and Astrium; and between ESA Member States and Inmarsat,” ESA’s Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain explained
“The latter is a rewarding public–private partnership where ESA is taking the risk to develop new technologies and Inmarsat is using these technologies to open up a new market,” he added.    

Aboard the satellite with a foreseen lifespan of 15 years are several innovative technologies developed by companies across Europe - an advanced integrated processor capable of performing trillions of operations per second, a solar generator with four panels with an overall span of 40 metres generating 12 kilowatts of power, an advanced propulsion system for attitude and orbit control or a 2000-litre fuel tank.

Alphasat also carries several technology demonstration payloads. One of them is German TESAT experiment, testing a terminal for data transfer that utilises lasers instead of radio-waves – a technology that promises a quantum leap in satellite communications.  

Despite the successful launch, Inmarsat and Astrium satellite controllers still have several busy weeks ahead of them. Today, they will complete the deployment of the 40m solar array and start raising the orbit of the satellite in order to reach its final position.

The next Inmarsat new satellites will be made by Boeing, however, questions remain whether it would be possible to launch them at the end of this year according to the schedule, as they are expected to take-off aboard the troubled Russian Proton rocket.

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