Global Xpress Inmarsat
Inmarsat is adding a fifth satellite to the Global Xpress fleet. Credit: Inmarsat video still.

MT LAUREL, New Jersey — British satellite operator Inmarsat announced June 2 that it is ordering a fifth Global Xpress satellite, switching manufacturers from Boeing, which built the original four, to Thales Alenia Space.

Inmarsat said the satellite will cost $130 million from now to 2019 to complete what it describes as a Very-High Throughput Satellite. The company did not immediately respond to SpaceNews inquiries about the total throughput of the new satellite.

Curiously, Inmarsat defined the coverage area of the fifth Global Xpress satellite as the Middle East, Europe and India. Inmarsat’s fourth Global Xpress satellite, initially planned as a ground spare but launched May 15, will initially be stationed over Europe. Company officials have declined to give a definite business plan for the extra satellite, which is slated to launch in 2019.

Inmarsat collectively brands its fifth-generation satellites as Global Xpress. The original fleet had only three satellites for global coverage in Ka-band.

In a June 2 press release, Inmarsat said the new satellite “reflects Inmarsat’s strategy of adding capacity to its already established, unique, high-speed global broadband network in areas of high customer demand and against new customer commitments.”

Inmarsat mentioned aeronautical connectivity as one of the primary markets the new satellite will serve, including flight routes through Europe and Asia. Inmarsat simultaneously announced a contract with Qatar Airways to equip more than 130 aircraft with Global Xpress inflight connectivity using JetWave antenna systems from Honeywell Aerospace.

The first four Global Xpress satellites each have 89 spot beams and are capable of downlinking 50 Mbps of throughput. In recent tests with ground equipment specialist iDirect, Inmarsat demonstrated speeds of 330 Mbps.

Thales Alenia Space built Inmarsat’s S-band Europasat satellite, which is scheduled to launch June 28 on an Ariane 5 rocket alongside the Indian space agency’s GSAT-17. Europasat is a condosat that shares the same spacecraft platform as the Hellas Sat 3 satellite from Arabsat subsidiary Hellas Sat.

Inmarsat also has two sixth-generation satellites with Ka- and L-band capacity on order from Airbus Defence and Space. Rupert Pearce, chief executive of Inmarsat, has described the two satellites as “the equivalent of 12 new Inmarsat-5s.” Those satellites are expected to launch in 2020 and 2021.

Caleb Henry is a former SpaceNews staff writer covering satellites, telecom and launch. He previously worked for Via Satellite and NewSpace Global.He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science along with a minor in astronomy from...