The activation of the company’s first low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite marks the first step towards their vision of a holistic single network, combining terrestrial connectivity and different types of satellites
Earlier this summer, UK-based satellite operator Inmarsat announced that it had plans to create a network that combines geosynchronous (GEO), highly elliptical orbit (HEO), and LEO satellites with a terrestrial 5G network, thereby creating an especially versatile network for government and mobility customers. They dubbed the project ORCHESTRA.
At the time of the announcement, Inmarsat said the project would involve the launch of up to 175 LEO satellites, suggesting that most of these would be launched in the second half of the decade.
However, today the company is announcing the successful activation of their first LEO satellite, a device which will serve as a proof of concept, exploring LEO-to-ground and LEO-to-GEO capabilities. According to the company, the satellite features a reprogrammable payload, hence further concepts will be tested in the coming months.
More specific details of the test remain confidential.
“Customers have expressed great excitement about Inmarsat’s ORCHESTRA network and we are making fast progress to bring that network to reality. Development of the terrestrial network is proceeding well and we are now moving forward with live tests of ORCHESTRA’s LEO layer,” said Rajeev Suri, CEO of Inmarsat.
“Our vision for ORCHESTRA is a network that uses the right technology for the right purpose. We are not beholden to a single approach and believe that the best way to meet customer needs is a multidimensional approach that includes GEO, LEO and terrestrial 5G in a dynamic mesh that brings capacity to where it is needed in the most efficient way possible.
The next steps of the ORCHESTRA project come at an interesting time for Inmarsat, who last month announced they had been acquired by Viasat for $7.3 billion. In an update earlier this week, Viasat executives said the acquisition was still on track, despite ongoing work to secure approval from the British government.
“We’re working closely with the U.K. government. We expect to end up with voluntary undertakings that we believe will be good for the U.K., good for the space sector in the U.K., good for Inmasat shareholders and good for Viasat,” said Suri. “We expect to be able to close those decisions with the U.K. government soon, which, I think, will facilitate a smooth path forward.”
These ‘voluntary undertakings’ could include increasing R&D investments and ensuring that facilities remain in the UK, rather than shifting to Viasat’s home market in the US.
The deal is still expected to close in the second half of 2022, assuming it receives regulatory approval.
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