Press Release

UK Excellence at Heart of World’s most Sophisticated Communications Satellite

By SpaceRef Editor
March 11, 2005
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UK engineering has played a key role in a revolutionary new satellite that will boost access to high-speed Internet and new 3G mobile phone services.

The first Inmarsat 4 satellite has been launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida on a NASA Atlas V rocket. It will form part of Inmarsat’s mobile communications system, which will enable international travellers including business people, disaster relief workers and journalists, to operate a virtual office anywhere in the network’s footprint.

The $770 million contract to manufacture three satellites was awarded to EADS Astrium by Inmarsat on 11th May 2000 and features the world’s most complex payload in the civil telecommunications satellite sector. The contract led to an additional 220 jobs created and more than $400 million invested in the UK space industry.

The company was awarded £7 million in research and development grants from BNSC through the Department of Trade and Industry. This helped fund pre-competitive development of the satellite’s digital on-board processor, which is vital to establish connectivity with small mobile terminals such as laptop computers.

Science and Innovation Minister Lord Sainsbury welcomed the successful launch:

“I am delighted that a  new era in mobile communications is  becoming a reality. This satellite demonstrates the sophistication of the UK’s leading engineering capability, especially in the development of cutting edge digital on-board processor technology.

“Inmarsat 4 is the first in a new generation of telecommunications satellites. The support from DTI has enabled EADS Astrium to further enhance the UK’s reputation as a world class centre of excellence.”

The first satellite will be positioned in geostationary orbit, enabling Inmarsat to cover a wide area, including most of Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and the Indian Ocean. A second satellite is planned for launch in the summer to cover South America, the Atlantic Ocean and part of the Pacific Ocean. A third satellite is currently in production.

The satellites will provide the new Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN) service over major land masses and part of the ocean surface. This will extend coverage of third generation terrestrial mobile networks for telephony, data and high-speed Internet access to laptop and palm-sized terminals operating at data rates of up to 432 kbits/sec.

The launch comes on the eve of National Science Week in the UK, which offers the chance for everyone to get involved in science. This is another example of UK excellence, and of targeted Government support, which is helping to make the UK a world centre of excellence for science.

Notes to Editors

1. The DTI contributed £7 million from its contribution to the ESA ARTES 4 (Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems) technology programme to carry out the pre-competitive development of the on-board digital processor which is “at the heart of” the mobile communications payload.  ARTES 4 is a co-funded applied technology programme, administered by the European Space Agency (ESA), which aims to improve the competitiveness of European industry in the satellite telecommunications sector.

2. BNSC is the UK Government body responsible for UK civil space policy, to help gain the best possible scientific, economic and social benefits from putting space to work. BNSC is a partnership of 11 Government Departments and Research Councils with an interest in the development or exploitation of space technologies. These are:

  • CCLRC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory
  • Department for Education and Skills
  • Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
  • Department for Transport
  • Department of Trade and Industry
  • Foreign and Commonwealth Office
  • Met Office
  • Ministry of Defence
  • Natural Environment Research Council
  • Office of Science and Technology
  • Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council

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SpaceRef staff editor.