An Atlas 5 rocket roared from its seaside pad Friday afternoon, carrying into space a satellite designed to provide broadband access to mobile users.
The Inmarsat 4 is the first of a new breed of spacecraft designed to provide broadband internet and intranet content, video-on-demand, video conferencing, fax, e-mail, phone and local area network access to mobile users almost anywhere in the world.
Rick Medlock, Inmarsat chief financial officer, said that when fully deployed, the three-satellite constellation that will make up the new Broadband Global Area Network will bring wireless broadband connections to ships, planes and remote areas that don't have reliable access to ground-based high-speed networks.
"It provides much faster connectivity — it brings broadband anywhere," Medlock said. "Whether you're doing oil exploration in Alaska or aid agency work in the middle of Africa or in ships in their fleets around the world, it brings true broadband, which they've never had before."
The company's satellites already provide coverage to mobile users who can connect via laptop-sized receivers, but the new system will be much faster.
The current system was used by solo sailor Ellen MacArthur to keep in touch during her recent record-breaking non-stop solo voyage around the world in her 75-foot trimaran B&Q.
The new spacecraft, built by European satellite giant EADS Astrium, is billed as the largest commercial satellite ever launched — 13,138 pounds.
To get it up, International Launch Services used a stretched version of its Atlas 5 rocket. An on-board camera provided a dramatic view of a cloud-streaked blue Earth against the black of space as the rocket left the atmosphere.
The launch had been delayed from Thursday.
Andrew Sukawaty, Inmarsat chief executive officer, said this mission cost about $250 million, a small fraction of the $1.5 billion cost of the entire program.International Launch Services: www.ilslaunch.com