New Inmarsat satellite takes the slow electric route to service

Inmarsat I-6 F1.jpg

Inmarsat, the company that is the subject of a US$7.3 billion takeover deal by Viasat, has started a 200-day process to put its latest satellite into service.

I-6 F1, which was launched from Japan on 22 December, is a hybrid satellite that won’t go into operation until early 2023.

“I-6 F1 will play a crucial role in Inmarsat’s world-leading, dynamic mesh network Orchestra as we plot the course to further connectivity innovation for our customers,” said CEO Rajeev Suri yesterday.

It is being lifted from its current position to the required geostationary orbit, 36,000km above the Earth, using electrical power.

Sales director Dimitri Zafiriadis explained in a post on LinkedIn: “All electric satellites take longer to get to in orbit service, but stay in orbit for much longer – approx 35 years – which is a nice trade-off.”

Airbus executive Guilhem Noël added: “These 200 days are compensated by a huge gain of weight and space inside the payload.” I6-F1 would not have been carry so many missions if it had been designed with chemical propulsion.

I6-F1, built by Airbus Defence and Space and launched by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, is the first of seven giant satellites that Inmarsat is planning. Its solar arrays are as wide as the wingspan of a Boeing 767.

I-6 F2 is being tested on the ground, prior to a launch planned for early 2023. The satellites will operate in both L band (1-2GHz) and Ka band (26.5–40GHz).

But Inmarsat will not be able to start testing the new satellite until it is in its geostationary orbit in 200 days – which puts the timing into July 2022.

Suri said: “This launch marks Inmarsat’s newest technological leap forward as we maintain our strong commercial momentum and sector leadership. This satellite extends our world leading mobile satellite communications services for our customers and partners, especially in the Indo-Pacific region.”

Inmarsat said that I-6 will play an integral role in the geostationary infrastructure that underpins its Orchestra network, will combine with highly elliptical orbit (HEO), low Earth orbit (LEO) and terrestrial 5G into one solution.

The L-band capacity on the I-6 series will be used for the industrial internet of things (IoT), said Inmarsat.

The company added: “The I-6s also offer additional Global Xpress (GX) high-speed broadband capacity, ensuring it continues to support the growing needs of commercial and government customers for data – especially in congested regions and hotspots.”

The I-6s will add to Inmarsat’s existing global fleet of 14 geostationary satellites. But if the merger with Viasat goes ahead, expected in the second half of the year, the whole unified company will have a combined fleet of 29 satellites.