TAMPA, Fla. — Inmarsat has ordered three small geostationary satellites from 3D printing specialist Swissto12 for a launch in 2026 to fortify its L-band safety services, the British operator announced May 19.

The identical satellites will be based on the Swiss manufacturer’s dishwasher-sized HummingSat platform, which secured its first customer in November in a mission for Intelsat slated for 2025.

Developed with European Space Agency funds, HummingSat is much smaller than conventional geostationary communications satellites about the size of a school bus. Swissto12 says this enables its satellites to be three times cheaper than their larger cousins, although with reduced capacity because they have less room for transponders and power.

The companies did not disclose the expected performance of the satellites, which form what Inmarsat said will be its eighth-generation of spacecraft, or I-8.

A rendering of an I-8 satellite.

Mark Dickinson, Inmarsat’s deputy chief technology officer and vice president for its space segment, said I-8 would add an extra layer of resilience and flexibility to its global safety services.

L-band safety services from Inmarsat’s current four-satellite ELERA constellation include tracking and emergency communications for ships and aircraft.

The U.K.-based company’s network is used by around 1.6 million seafarers and over 200 airlines.

I-8’s transponders will also feed into Inmarsat’s Satellite-Based Augmentation System (SBAS) services, which the operator says enables coastguards, air traffic controllers, and other users to increase the accuracy of GPS from 5-10 meters to as little as 10 centimeters.

Strengthening safety

Working alongside two hybrid L-band and Ka-band I-6 satellites that launched in December 2021 and February 2023, respectively, Dickinson said I-8 would secure its safety services well into the 2040s.

L-band services from the first I-6 satellite are due to be fully deployed over the Asia Pacific region later this year, followed by the second in early 2024 for covering Europe, Africa, and much of the Americas.

In April, Inmarsat’s L-band services over Asia Pacific suffered an outage following a partial loss of power on its aging I-4 F1 satellite.

While the operator said it has since restored maritime and aviation safety capabilities on the 18-year-old satellite, work continues to recover all services for L-band phone users in the region.

Dickinson declined to disclose financial details about its triple satellite order but said it marks “a significant commitment to securing the future of Inmarsat’s L-band services.”

The satellites are small enough to be deployed on a single rocket, he said, although the company has yet to pick a launch provider.

Inmarsat has five more payloads in the pipeline for deployment by 2025: three from Airbus for the operator’s Global Xpress Ka-band broadband network in geostationary orbit, and two hosted payloads Northrop Grumman is building for highly elliptical orbit, which would extend the network over the globe’s northernmost latitudes.

The operator is also considering adding satellites in low Earth orbit to its fleet.

Record financials

Inmarsat reported a 16% year-on-year rise in revenues to $403 million for the three months ended March 31, driven by growth across all four of its business units: aviation, maritime, government, and enterprise.

Adjusted EBITDA, or earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization, jumped 32% to $259 million.

Inmarsat CEO Rajeev Suri said May 17 these were the strongest quarterly financial results in the 44-year-old company’s history, showing robust underlying growth despite a boost from one-off equipment orders, government contracts, and favorable currency movements.

Suri said the quarterly results are likely its last as an independent company as U.S.-based satellite operator Viasat expects to complete its acquisition of the British firm in the next few weeks.

After getting unconditional approval from the U.K.’s competition watchdog May 9, and from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission May 19, the transaction just needs the green light from Europe.

Viasat also reported strong results May 17, following the $2 billion sale late last year of its tactical data communications business. 

The U.S. broadband operator reported quarterly revenue from continuing operations up 10% year-on-year to $666 million, which it said was primarily driven by a 34% rise in product revenue.

Adjusted EBITDA climbed 21% to $124 million, driven by higher sales from its government systems and commercial aviation businesses, and lower research and development expenses.

Jason Rainbow writes about satellite telecom, space finance and commercial markets for SpaceNews. He has spent more than a decade covering the global space industry as a business journalist. Previously, he was Group Editor-in-Chief for Finance Information...