London-based Inmarsat, which provides mobile satellite telecommunications, has launched its latest spacecraft.
Alphasat I-XL rode an Ariane 5 to orbit, lifting clear of the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana at 16:54 local time (19:54 GMT) on Thursday.
The satellite is the product of a major public-private partnership involving Inmarsat and the European Space Agency. The 6.6-tonne Alphasat incorporates a host of new technologies that should benefit both parties.The Ariane flight lasted just over half and represents the first test of a new heavyweight class of chassis, or bus, that will allow European manufacturers to make telecoms spacecraft that weigh up to 8.8 tonnes with a power output of 22kW. This has led some to refer to the Alphasat design as the “A380 of space”.
For Inmarsat, the most important aspect of the new satellite is the inclusion of an advanced digital signal processor made in Portsmouth in southern England. This processor, allied to the platform’s smart 11m X 13m antenna system, can channel significant bandwidth and power on to specific locations on the ground.
In addition to its commercial duties, Alphasat has a number of experimental payloads to test. The most noteworthy of these is a laser-based communications system.
Developed in Germany, this technology will form the basis of Europe’s forthcoming orbital data relay system, which will permit gigabit connections between Earth observation satellites and the ground.
Alphasat will validate the laser terminal by downlinking pictures from the EU’s Sentinel-1a radar spacecraft when it launches next year.