British firm launches ‘most sophisticated’ communications satellite

British firm Inmarsat has launched one of the “largest and most sophisticated commercial communications satellites” ever, which will be used to bolster communications in remote areas.

The Inmarsat-6 F1 (I-6 F1) is the first of two satellites that the firm plans to launch into geostationary orbit, about 35,785km above the Earth.

It will be able to make use of L-band communication networks using global narrowband technology Elera, as well as Ka-band.

Although L-band provides relatively slow-speed connectivity, demand for its use in Internet of Things (IoT) applications has been growing. Such applications include remote assets – which includes everything from shipping containers to bulldozers – allowing the sensors to make regular reports back to base of their operational status.

The satellite could also help to bolster other services such as 5G, Wi-Fi on planes, remote drones, autonomous vehicles, and remote sensors used for ocean and agricultural monitoring.

Inmarsat already operates around 14 satellites held in a geostationary orbit that are used for critical maritime and aviation safety services among other uses.

“What it will offer our customers is a lot more capacity compared to our previous generations satellites,” the firm’s chief executive Rajeev Suri said while speaking to the PA news agency.

“And the beauty is that these satellites have got a minimum lifespan of around 15 years so it will go the 2040s and beyond, which means that it will not only support the applications and use cases that we know and see today, but also new ones that we haven’t fully comprehended or even imagined, so it’s very exciting.”

Launching atop a Mitsubishi Heavy Industries H-2A rocket  from Tanegashima Space Centre in Japan, the 5,470kg I-6 F1 has been designed to maintain its orbit for at least the next 15 years and could one day even be used to power flying taxis.

“It could be that when we have autonomous taxis in the air, they would be supported in urban centres by 5G, but outside of the urban areas, this (the satellite) could be the primary way to connect,” Suri added.

In September, the European Space Agency confirmed that its Lunar Pathfinder satellite, which will provide communications services around the Moon, would be built by UK-based firm Surrey Satellite Technology.

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