Inmarsat, a British satellite operator, intends to add a minimum of 150 low-Earth-orbit spacecraft to its international fleet, increasing competition with OneWeb and other companies developing megaconstellations for the mobility market. Within the next five years, the company will invest $100 million to lay the foundation for the 150-175 LEO spacecraft deployment. By 2026, they plan to join Inmarsat’s satellites in geostationary and very elliptical orbits.
During the next five years, Inmarsat plans to add five more GEO and two HEO satellites to its network, which presently has 14 satellites. Orchestra, the company’s next multi-orbit constellation, aims to increase latency, network speeds, and robustness for the communications services in the maritime, aviation, government, and enterprise markets. Inmarsat chief technology officer (CTO) Peter Hadinger stated in an interview that the LEO satellites would extend “the toolset of things we can offer to them.”
This contains emerging markets like autonomous shipping and air taxis, which will need the low latency that LEO satellites can provide because they are closer to Earth than GEO satellites. Inmarsat’s entry into the LEO market will ramp up competition in an already congested sector. Similar customers are being pursued by OneWeb, a U.K.-based LEO broadband startup that has dispatched over a third of the 648-strong constellation.
Telesat, a Canadian satellite operator, is also working on an LEO constellation for commercial and government clients, but launches have begun. SpaceX, based in the United States, has a Starlink broadband network in low-Earth orbit (LEO) with more than 1,600 satellites, but it primarily deploys consumer broadband services.
Hadinger pointed out that OneWeb did not commence out focusing on the government and enterprise industries that it now serves. The company began in 2012 to connect remote schools and villages before shifting its focus and shrinking its constellation from about 900 satellites.
“Mobility has often been the market for us,” he stated, providing that “it is an industry that other individuals say, oh, and therefore we should get into such a market as well — but they are late to the party when it comes to mobility.” And, quite frankly, their systems, as well as the costs associated with them, are simply not scaled appropriately for the economics of the international mobility market.”
OneWeb did not reply to a request for comment after emerging from bankruptcy protection the previous year and entirely securing the $2.4 billion required for its constellation in June. Orchestra’s initial step will be to install a terrestrial 5G layer, which will “unload the space section in the hottest of hot places, where we understand from encounter that we have lots of focused demand,” according to Hadinger. The LEO layer thus permits us to tackle hot regions that are too far away to reach by terrestrial means.” It means that a ship in a congested port, as well as a military unit operating in a remote place, would have reliable access thanks to the hybrid network.