Since joining Inmarsat, I have been very vocal about my passion for innovation. If you have ever heard me speak, you probably know how mindful I am that the world around us is changing and that we must never sit still if we are to continue to outpace the needs of our customers and partners.
We have proven our desire for, and commitment to, growth through our technology roadmap, which will see a total of seven new satellites launched by 2024. We have no intention of stopping there either, our commitment to innovation stretches far and wide, even to the Moon through our work with the European Space Agency (ESA) on Project Moonlight.
The next frontier
Space is an exciting place. But rather than the final frontier that Star Trek told us about all those years ago, I believe it is simply the next frontier – there is nothing final about it. We have made huge steps forward in space exploration and yet, we have still only scratched the surface when it comes to understanding the potential of what space can offer.
Just last month, NASA made history when its Ingenuity helicopter became the first ever to successfully perform a powered, controlled flight on Mars. This short-lived flight might have only lasted a few minutes, but it was of huge significance in our efforts to understand more beyond Earth.
It is space exploration to the Moon and experimentation while there that began decades ago that has made these new achievements on Mars possible today, and it appears our fascination with Earth’s only natural satellite is far from fading.
Introducing Project Moonlight
With international space teams around the world making plans to revisit the Moon and NASA’s Artemis programme aiming to return humans there by 2024, ESA is funding Project Moonlight, a new study led by Telespazio, of which we are proud to be part of.
The project will study the development of a single navigation and communications satellite constellation built around the Moon. This system will operate for all lunar missions, whether crewed or uncrewed, to drastically reduce the cost of each trip that would no longer need to invest in its own infrastructure.
With Project Moonlight in place, rockets would require less telecommunications and navigation equipment on board, not only making them lighter but also providing more space for the scientific instruments that serve the purpose of their missions. Using the navigation capabilities of the constellation, lunar missions could choose very precisely where to land and set up observatories; and rover vehicles could cover much more ground, with sophisticated teleoperation from Earth via the communications side of the new Moonlight network.
And who knows what else may be achievable? Sending messages back down to friends and family on Earth, over 384,000 km away, is certainly a possibility, as well as catching up on the latest Netflix boxset!
We look forward to getting started on Project Moonlight, and Inmarsat’s role in the next step of the project will be researching and collating the requirements of potential users of the system, in both the public and private sectors. Inmarsat will also design the ground segment of the future Lunar Communications and Navigation Satellite (LCNS) constellation, which will lead to the creation of a technical concept for the LCNS as part of the business case that ESA will then study ahead of its next stage of the programme.
For Inmarsat, as a world leader in global, mobile satellite communications, both communications and navigation are core capabilities, so excites us to be able to expand our reach to the Moon. We are always looking for new ways to innovate and this project could unlock incredibly thrilling possibilities, technological developments and even new resources for our planet.
I believe that collectively, this new consortium will provide an incredibly powerful incubator that could lead to the next step in a second Space Age. We do not yet know what the next generation of space exploration will uncover but we know it has the potential to transform our lives. Look what satellite communication has done for us already – from communications to navigation and many other things in between on which our daily lives depend.