By Robert Wall
LONDON--A Russian Proton rocket on Friday launched an Inmarsat PLC spacecraft to put the British satellite operator on a course to begin operating a global network of high-bandwidth satellites by year-end.
The launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan occurred at 11:44 GMT. The launch phase should be completed early Saturday before the Global Xpress, or GX, satellite begins another phase of getting to the right position in space for testing. Inmarsat plans to commence commercial service of the spacecraft by year-end.
GX customers will be able to get high-speed connectivity far from a terrestrial connection--allowing airlines to offer broadband access to their passengers, armies to gather more data from drones, and industrial customers to manage their plants, mines and fleets more efficiently.
The third of the Boeing Co.-made satellites, each weighing more than 6 metric tons, fills a hole over the Pacific to provide global coverage in all but some polar regions. The one launched Friday is due to provide European coverage and is expected to come online this year after an in-orbit checkout phase.
Inmarsat Chief Executive Rupert Pearce said in an earlier interview that GX customers initially will likely be mainly government buyers of bandwidth, already a core customer for the company, though eventually other markets such as airlines will gain traction.
The launch is also critical for International Launch Services Inc. and Russia's Khrunichev rocket-production center--which are responsible for the launch. A number of Proton launch failures in recent years have caused delays and turned off some satellite operators from using the Russian rocket to loft their spacecraft.
Previous launch failures set back Inmarsat's plans to operate GX globally.
Inmarsat has promised investors that the $1.6 billion invested in GX will generate annual revenues of $500 million from the fifth year. Mr. Pearce said the system will also serve as an inflection point for earnings growth.
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