I-6 F1 satellite begins electrical orbit-raising process

What is claimed to be the world’s most advanced commercial communications satellite begins its journey to geostationary orbit

Ahead of its expected 2022 testing programme and projected entry into service in early 2023, I-6 F1, claimed to be the most sophisticated commercial communications satellite ever built, has begun its electric orbit-raising (EOR) process to reach geostationary orbit, 36,000km above Earth.

Built for global mobile satellite communications provider Inmarsat by Airbus Defence and Space, I-6 F1 was launched by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) from the JAXA Tanegashima Space Centre in Japan on 22 December 2021.

The craft is Inmarsat’s first hybrid L- and Ka-band satellite, and the first of seven planned for Inmarsat by 2024 in the company’s fully funded technology roadmap. I-6 F1 will be followed by I-6 F2, which is currently in testing on the ground, prior to an early 2023 launch.

The I-6s incorporate increased capacity and are said to offer new technological advances for ELERA’s transformational L-band services, delivering an enhanced platform for customers looking to embrace next-wave technologies such as the industrial internet of things, thanks to what Inmarsat says is “dramatically” increased network capacity and resilience.

The I-6s will also offer additional Global Xpress (GX) high-speed broadband capacity, ensuring it continues to support the growing needs of commercial and government customers for data – especially in congested regions and hotspots.

Adding to an existing global fleet of 14 geostationary satellites, the I-6s will extend Inmarsat’s commitment to mission critical services while enabling a new generation of pioneering technologies to connect and sustain the world. I-6 will play an integral role in the GEO infrastructure that underpins Inmarsat Orchestra fleet, said to be the world’s first network that will combine GEO, highly elliptical orbit (HEO), low Earth orbit (LEO) and terrestrial 5G into one harmonious offering.

The provider has revealed that in the hours following its launch, initial acquisition of telemetry from the satellite was received, followed by two further milestones completed on 24 December: apogee thruster firing and solar array deployment. Several days later, as the Inmarsat team worked throughout the Christmas and New Year break, the nine-metre-wide L-band reflector was deployed.

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Inmarsat regards each of these moves as crucial steps in the orbital manoeuvre, which slowly makes I-6 F1’s orbit slightly more circular to prepare the satellite for the EOR process, before taking the satellite to its final location in geostationary orbit via an all-electric propulsion system, which is expected to take around 200 days to complete.

Once I-6 F1 reaches its final position, extensive testing will begin, before its entry into service in early 2023. I-6 F1 will be supported by ground stations at Perth and Merredin in Western Australia.

“This launch marks Inmarsat’s newest technological leap forward as we maintain our strong commercial momentum and sector leadership,” said Inmarsat CEO Rajeev Suri. “This satellite extends our world-leading mobile satellite communications services for our customers and partners, especially in the Indo Pacific region.

“I-6 F1 will play a crucial role in Inmarsat’s world-leading dynamic mesh network, Orchestra, as we plot the course to further connectivity innovation for our customers.

“My warmest thanks and congratulations go to the Inmarsat team that delivered flawlessly on this project, as well as our launch provider Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and our satellite manufacturing partner Airbus Defence and Space.”

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