From emergency rescue to in-flight wi-fi, how Inmarsat is disrupting itself

Best known as the satellite comms provider for adventurous types, Inmarsat boss Rupert Pearce explains how to succeed by eating your own lunch.

by Andrew Saunders
Inmarsat I-5 Satellite in flight
Inmarsat I-5 Satellite in flight

In a shiny glass building right on top of London’s Old Street roundabout, in a hushed room bedecked with computer screens, a handful of people who look to all the world like regular desk jockeys are quietly at work.

But they are not doing email or crunching spreadsheets, oh no – these guys are flying satellites. As they tap at their keyboards, 36,000 kms above the surface of the earth the thrusters of geostationary comms satellites respond, tweaking their trajectories ever-so-slightly to compensate for the invisible lumps and bumps in the gravitational field that knock them off course.

It’s an important job – once the fuel is used up, a satellite’s life is over. A skilful pilot can eke out a supply designed to last 15 years for 20 or even more. With each satellite costing $500m and providing direct comms coverage for a third of the earth’s surface, that’s not small change.

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