CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — SpaceX launched a satellite for Inmarsat on Feb. 17, giving the operator more capacity for partnerships in an emerging direct-to-device market.
A Falcon 9 carrying the British company’s Inmarsat-6 F2 (I-6 F2) satellite took off east of Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida at 10:59 p.m.
I-6 F2 separated from the rocket about 32 minutes later and will use onboard electric propulsion to enter geostationary orbit over the Atlantic over the next few months.
As is customary for a Falcon 9 mission today, the rocket’s first stage successfully landed for reuse shortly after launch. The booster has previously supported a manned flight to the International Space Station and the launch of a GPS-3 satellite.
Earlier in the day, SpaceX launched another Falcon 9 from Vandenberg Space Force Base, California, to deliver 51 satellites into low Earth orbit (LEO) for its broadband constellation.
According to Inmarsat, I-6 F2 is scheduled to enter service in 2024 after rigorous in-orbit testing.
The satellite is identical to the Inmarsat-6 F1 (I-6 F2) which, after being launched in December 2021 by Japanese company Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, is scheduled to become operational earlier this year from a geostationary slot over the Indian Ocean.
Both Airbus-built satellites will carry a hybrid Ka-band and L-band payload primarily to provide mobile connectivity services for maritime, aviation and government markets.
I-6 F1’s Ka-band capacity will target high-speed connectivity demand in Southeast Asia, Inmarsat’s chief technology officer Peter Hadinger said Feb. 18, while I-6 F2’s Ka-band beams over hotspots be addressed to the Atlantic.
According to Hadinger, each satellite also doubles the amount of usable L-band capacity in its coverage area that Inmarsat is currently providing with its global ELERA network of eight satellites.
This capacity expansion will primarily support the voice and messaging services that Inmarsat already enables via specialized handsets with bulky antennas, as well as its remote tracking and surveillance equipment connection business.
But while Iridium moves forward with its plans to use its L-band to connect mass-market devices, and other operators are flocking to the direct-to-device opportunity, Hadinger said the I-6 F1 and I-6 F2 are doing the same could help open up further partnership opportunities for Inmarsat in this area.
“That certainly gives us a long service life,” he said, noting that each satellite is designed for more than 15 years of operation.
“And by giving us additional efficiency in the spectrum, it improves the number of options we have to adapt to any of these particular direct-to-device initiatives.”
British handset maker Bullitt recently said it has developed a smartphone that can use Inmarsat’s network outside of cellular coverage to provide narrowband services that include text messages.
“The big question then is how much bandwidth do you need (and) do you need to build a purpose-built fleet for that?” Hadinger said.
“We’re not convinced yet, but we’ve been approached by everyone because we have frequencies.”
Inmarsat is also currently considering plans for a LEO constellation that could eventually support direct-to-device connectivity.