[Satellite News 01-24-12] Inmarsat will focus efforts in 2012 on reaching out to government customers and forging a key role for its Global Xpress constellation in the government’s long-term plans, Inmarsat Government Services President Peter Hadinger told Satellite News.
Hadinger joined Inmarsat last April after a long career as a satellite engineer and business development executive at Northrop Grumman and TRW. He is now working to develop Global Xpress satcom solutions for a broad range of government missions and integrate those services into future government systems. Hadinger spoke with Satellite News about how he plans to push Global Xpress into the government spotlight during the next year.
Satellite News: Where does Inmarsat Global Xpress currently stand in its space segment development efforts?
Hadinger: Right now, we’re still very much in the middle of development on Global Xpress. If you were to use the process of a rocket launch as an example, we’re at that point where you would have ‘go for full-throtle up.’ We’ve left the tower and we haven’t made orbit, but we are burning at maximum thrust. That describes where we are on Global Xpress. In the later part of last year, we passed the critical design review on the spacecraft with Boeing. The spacecraft is now under construction. I’ve seen pictures of the spacecraft frame and the first traveling wave tube amplifiers of the antennas and reflectors in test. And so, there is real hardware showing up and getting bolted to real panels at this moment. All of that progress is going to take shape as we move through the year. We’re headed toward our first launch in the middle of 2013. We’re putting a lot of attention into making sure we stay on track this year.
Satellite News: What is developing on the ground to support Global Xpress?
Hadinger: In the ground segment, we are about ready to start construction on our first ground stations. We’re going to have a total of six ground stations around the world – two in each primary ocean coverage region. That means we will have two in Europe, two in North America and two in the Pacific. This is a big development for us that we expect to begin this quarter. We’re about to start construction on the first two in Europe, though that project has not been publicly announced, we expect it to be announced fairly shortly.
Satellite News: What factors play a role in determining where you will build your ground stations?
Hadinger: We have certain security requirements that we’ve placed upon our site selection team that list permissible places to build – places with very good network connectivity and, because we’re operating with Ka-band links to the spacecraft, places that are not prone to heavy and frequent rain, so that our service is available for a high percentage of the time. This is one of the reasons why we have two ground stations in each region. That way, we have very high availability of the overall system and its redundant in many ways. Last, but not least, cost is an important factor in determining the location of a ground station. Costs depend on a variety of factors such as maturity of the location and land and property values.
Satellite News: How has working with iDirect as a partner on the Global Xpress ground segment and terminal modems been for Inmarsat?
Hadinger: They’ve been doing a very good job. This is actually an opportunity for iDirect to expand their scope from being a company that builds the hub equipment that goes into the ground stations, to actually taking the prime contractor responsibility for delivering the ground station itself. Inmarsat is contractually deciding where those ground stations will be and contracting for the facility itself. But, iDirect is basically going to fill out the entire station – from the antennas through the network connection inside the station. For them, it’s a move into a higher-level integration role. We’re excited to work with them on that.
Satellite News: Are there any other partnerships on the horizon?
Hadinger: We announced some of our other terminal partners last year for our maritime and aeronautics segments. We’re going to continue to make new partnerships through the first part of this year, including partnerships for some of the land terminals. I expect that we’ll start seeing the first Global Xpress-compatible hardware this year. The first one of those will be the Sea Tel 4012 maritime terminals, which will be used for our XpressLink product, where the terminal can operate today in Ku-band and then, later on, they can be converted to run in Ka-band so that the same basic gear can be used to run across Global Xpress. We’ll see the first deliveries of those terminals later this year.
Satellite News: Do government budget issues change the way you interact with government customers?
Hadinger: Inmarsat is fully funding Global Xpress. So, when we go into a meeting and speak to our government customers, one of the first things we say is that we’re not looking for money. In today’s budget environment, that’s a pretty good way to start a conversation. What we are looking to do is to make sure that the government is prepared for Global Xpress, which should be fully built out around the world by the middle of 2014. Given the lead time for the development of government capabilities, that’s not at all too long for the government to be looking at how they are going to be incorporate Global Xpress into their overall plans. We also have to make sure we are cooperating with the government and communicating properly so that we’re matching their requirements. For us, 2012 is a year that will be focused on that type of outreach – getting the government to include Global Xpress in its long-term plans.
Satellite News: You joined Inmarsat Government Services in April 2011 after working at Northrop Grumman for 30 years. How has the transition to your new role been for you?
Hadinger: After 30 years spent at TRW/Northrop Grumman, it’s fair to say that I don’t change horses too often. But, I saw the transition to Inmarsat as an opportunity not to be missed. I’ve worked with the Inmarsat team over the years on a number of projects, so we already knew each other reasonably well. From that experience, I had come to respect Inmarsat for its technical competency and for its integrity. I saw Global Xpress as an opportunity, for the first time, to work with a new commercial system that was designed with government requirements effectively baked in the solution from the start. In the past, a lot of commercial systems had attributes that were attractive to governments that eventually utilized them. But these systems were not designed for government purposes from the outset.