KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL — SpaceX blasted the “largest and most complicated communications satellite ever built to orbit” for London-based Inmarset at twilight on May 15 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center aboard an expendable Falcon 9 rocket.
In fact the Inmarsat-5 F4 satellite is so powerful that it has the potential to reach “hundreds of millions of customers,” the Inmarsat CEO Rupert Pierce told Universe Today in a post-launch interview at the Kennedy Space Center.
“This is the largest and most complicated [communications] satellite ever built,” Pearce explained beside NASA’s countdown clock at the KSC press site.
Blastoff of the Inmarsat-5 Flight 4 communications satellite for commercial High-Speed mobile broadband provider Inmarsat took place right on time early Monday evening, May 15 at 7:21 p.m. EDT (or 23:21 UTC) from SpaceX’s seaside Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The newly-built 229-foot-tall (70-meter) SpaceX Falcon 9 successfully delivered the huge 6100 kg Inmarsat-5 F4 satellite to a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO) under brilliant blue twilight skies from the Florida Space Coast.
“Satellite deployment success!” Inmarsat announced.
“#I5F4 has been released & is flying high on its way to geostationary orbit! Safe journey! Thanks for a great launch SpaceX!”
Why launch such the largest and most complicated satellite ever? I asked Inmarsat CEO Pearce.
“We set a very high bar for the service offerings we want to offer for that satellite that just went up and is now on its way to in orbit testing,” Inmarsat CEO Pearce told me.
“That satellite will deliver mobile broadband for a third of the Earth at 50 megabits per second.”
“And by the end of next year those data rates will go up to over 300 megabits per second.”
“To get that kind of data speed you need very high processing powers, you need to deploy the new Ka band — which although it is still relatively unproven is looking like a very exciting new capability for space assets.”
The integrated Falcon 9/Inmarsat-5 F4 were rolled out to the KSC launch pad on Sunday to begin final preparations and were erected at the pad this morning for Monday’s liftoff.
The first stage is powered by nine Merlin 1 D engines fueled by RP-1 and liquid oxygen propellants and generating 1.7 million pounds.
The seven meter long satellite was deployed approximately 32 minutes after launch when it will come under the command of the Boeing and Inmarsat satellite operations teams based at the Boeing facility in El Segundo.
It will now be “maneuvered to its geostationary orbit, 35,786km (22,236 miles) above Earth, where it will deploy its solar arrays and reflectors and undergo intensive payload testing before beginning commercial service.”
The Inmarsat-5 F4 (I-5 F4) will become part of the firms Global Xpress network “which has been delivering seamless, high-speed broadband connectivity across the world since December 2015,” says Inmarsat.
“Once in geostationary orbit, the satellite will provide additional capacity for Global Xpress users on land, at sea and in the air.”
I-5 F4 was built by Boeing at their satellite operations facility in El Segundo, CA for Inmarsat.
The new satellite will join three others already in orbit.
Inmarsat has invested approximately US$1.6 billion in the Global Xpress constellation “to establish the first ever global Ka-band service from a single network operator.”
Inmarsat 5 F4 counts as the sixth SpaceX launch of 2017.
And SpaceX is on an absolutely torrid launch pace. Monday’s liftoff comes just two weeks after the last successful SpaceX Falcon 9 liftoff on May 1 of the super secret NROL-76 payload for the National Reconnaissance Office, or NRO — as I reported here.
Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite launch reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.