SINGAPORE — SpaceX launched the last of telecom satellite operator Inmarsat’s first-generation Global Xpress satellites May 15 on a mission where SpaceX did not attempt to recover the Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage.
The Falcon 9 lifted off from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on schedule at 7:21 p.m. Eastern, releasing the Inmarsat-5 F4 satellite into a geostationary transfer orbit nearly 32 minutes later.
The decision to conduct an expendable launch, now seen as rare for the Hawthorne, California, company that has landed 10 first stage boosters after their respective missions, was because of the satellite’s mass, the heaviest geostationary orbit satellite launched to date by SpaceX. At 6,100 kilograms, Inmarsat-5 F4 required fuel SpaceX would have otherwise reserved for the rocket’s return in order to get the satellite to geostationary transfer orbit.
British satellite operator Inmarsat launched the first three of its fifth generation satellites, branded as Global Xpress, on Russian Proton rockets between 2013 and 2015. In March 2016, the company made the decision to launch the fourth satellite, originally intended as a spare, to both add additional capacity and serve as an in-orbit backup. Global Xpress needs at least three satellites to have coverage of the entire globe except the poles.
Built by Boeing, each Global Xpress satellite has 89 fixed high-throughput spot beams, delivering Ka-band connectivity for customers in aviation, maritime, defense and other sectors. The U.S. government is the largest revenue driver for Global Xpress so far. Inmarsat anticipates generating $500 million a year in revenue from the first three Global Xpress satellites by 2020.
Company representatives have not shared what Inmarsat’s business plan will be for the fourth satellite, beyond saying that it will likely go over Europe.
Inmarsat’s next satellite launch, the Europasat S-band payload that shares a satellite bus with Greek operator Hellas Sat’s Hellas Sat-3, is scheduled for an Arianespace Ariane 5 launch in June. The satellite was originally scheduled to launch on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy last year, but delays in that vehicle’s introduction prompted the operator to switch launch providers.