London-headquartered satellite communications provider Inmarsat has launched the first of its Global Xpress (GX) family of satellites promising to kick off the revolution in Internet connectivity aboard aircraft.
The 6-tonne spacecraft, manufactured for Inmarsat by Boeing as part of a nearly £1bn investment into the next generation of mobile broadband communications, blasted off aboard the Russian Proton Breeze M rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan 12 minutes after noon on Sunday 8 December.
About five and a half hours later, at 5:48pm GMT, Inmarsat’s Paumalu ground station in Hawaii confirmed establishing contact with the spacecraft, marking the beginning of the launch and early orbit phase. In the upcoming weeks Inmarsat’s London-based controllers will steer the spacecraft firs to geo-synchronous elliptical orbit, deploying its solar arrays and reflectors by the end of Christmas and finally raising the orbit further using electrical thrusters to reach the operational position in geostationary orbit almost 36,000 km above the Earth’s surface. Payload testing is scheduled to commence at the end of January.
The Inmarsat-5 F1 satellite will be followed by further three spacecraft, two of them scheduled for launch by the end of 2014.
“The successful launch of this first Inmarsat-5 satellite is a major landmark on our journey to deliver the world’s first globally available, high speed mobile broadband service. We are on schedule to achieve full global coverage by the end of 2014,” said Inmarsat’s CEO Rupert Pearce.
Inmarsat said the Global Express constellation will offer seamless global Ka-band coverage and consistent higher performance of up to 50Mbps to mobile or fixed terminals, including those aboard travelling aircraft.
“The Inmarsat-5 generation is, by some distance, the fastest satellite development programme in our history,” said Pearce. “This is an extraordinary achievement and I would like to pay tribute to the skill and expertise of Inmarsat’s engineering teams and all our employees involved in the design, development, manufacturing, testing and launch.”
The satellites feature 89 Ka-band beams and are designed to generate approximately 15 kilowatts of power, which is enabled by using five panels of ultra-triple-junction solar cells.