Inmarsat and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) extended their launch services partnership today, announcing the first commercial launch order for MHI’s new H3 launch vehicle. The H3 maiden flight is expected in 2020 with commercial launches beginning in 2022. Inmarsat did not specify which satellite will be the payload for the future mission.
This is the second agreement entered by Inmarsat and MHI. In 2017 Inmarsat awarded a launch services contract to MHI’s H-IIA Launch Vehicle. That launch will orbit the first of Inmarsat’s sixth generation satellites (I-6 F1). These agreements underline the growing partnership between the two companies in the area of launch services.
As our company grows – expanding into new markets and opening up new opportunities for our customers to develop their businesses – we continually seek new technology partners that display an outstanding commitment to innovation and excellence. It was for these reasons that in 2017 we selected MHI as a launch partner and why today we are delighted to be announcing that Inmarsat is the first commercial customer to select MHI’s new H3 launch vehicle. We believe that H3 represents a world-class innovation and one that will deliver an effective and efficient service to place future Inmarsat satellites into orbit. – Rupert Pearce, CEO of Inmarsat
The modular nature of the H3 launch vehicle allows for flexibility of payload size and configuration. MHI aims to reduce per launch costs as part of the new design, a necessity as launch offerings expand and questions arise around the size of the future GEO satellite market.
Today, development of the H3 Launch Vehicle is proceeding steadily forward under the leadership of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), with MHI serving as primary contractor working closely with key component manufacturers. We greatly appreciate the high evaluation made by Inmarsat during this development phase and, working closely with JAXA and government agencies, we will do everything possible to ensure that development results in a new flagship launch vehicle fully meeting the customer’s high expectations. – Masahiro Atsumi, Vice President & Senior General Manager for Space Systems at MHI
The next generation of larger launchers – including MHI’s H3, Ariane 6, ULA’s Vulcan Centaur, Blue Origin’s New Glenn and SpaceX’s Super Heavy (neé BFR) – all must compete for the geosynchronous transfer orbit launches, the largest and heaviest of satellites, even as questions arise over the size of that market in the future. A burst of launch activity in recent years yields to fewer GEO satellites currently in production, with smaller low and medium earth orbit satellite constellations growing in significance. These new constellations can use the same rockets, of course, but they can also take advantage of smaller (and generally cheaper) launch services. In this context securing customer contracts early is key. Especially as the vehicles remain in development.