Inmarsat gets funding to develop satellite-based telemetry relay network for rocket launches

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TAMPA, Fla. — The UK Space Agency will partly fund the development of an in-orbit telemetry relay system called InRange, which will use British satellite operator Inmarsat’s L-band constellation to guide rocket launches.

Inmarsat says that InRange will reduce launch providers’ dependence on ground-based systems for tracking rockets in flight, potentially saving them money on ground stations and other terrestrial infrastructure.

The UK Space Agency awarded Inmarsat a £258,000 ($357,960) National Space Innovation Programme (NSIP) contract to develop the network.

The satellite fleet operator is partnering with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI), the prime contractor for Japan’s next-generation H3 launch vehicle, to develop InRange. Inmarsat said MHI will ensure the InRange capability it will add to its existing, in-orbit satellites will meet the challenging environmental conditions that launch vehicles experience.

Safran Data Systems, the telemetry solutions provider based in Europe and North America, and U.S. antenna maker HaighFarr are also partners on the project. They will focus on InRange’s L-band transmitter and antenna design.

Supported by investments from the industry, Inmarsat said InRange has secured just over £422,000 in total funding.

“Inmarsat’s highly robust L-band satellite network is ideal to provide telemetry services for launch providers globally,” said Nick Shave, vice president of strategic programs at Inmarsat Global Government.

“The space launch market is an exciting new sector for our network and team to work on. This innovative project will allow us to solve problems and create efficiencies in the design of a reliable and secure telemetry solution for launch service providers and launch site operators.”

As well as supporting existing launch providers, an Inmarsat spokesperson said InRange will lower commercial barriers to entry for new entrants, “because they wouldn’t need to invest in their own system or even build more expensive ground-based systems.”

That could help prospective U.K.-based launch providers as the country aims to grow its domestic space capabilities. 

The U.K. government said March 5 it was on course to finalize legislation for conducting space launches from the country’s soil by the end of this year, after publishing its response to a consultation

It said launches could potentially take place within the next few years and spaceports could be built in southwest England, Scotland and Wales.

Nearly £40 million in government grants have already been awarded to establish commercial vertical and horizontal small satellite launches from U.K. spaceports.

The Inmarsat spokesperson was unable to give a timeline for developing InRange, but said the funding means work can now begin to test the concept on a future launch.