Europe is taking a step forward towards plans to launch a prototype satellite in 2012 that it expects to improve high-speed mobile data and voice communications in remote parts of the region.
The satellite — called Alphasat — is a joint project of the European Space Agency (ESA) and UK-based satellite communications company Inmarsat. On Thursday, the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the European Commission (EC) announced that they will loan Inmarsat €225m (£194m) towards the launch and construction of the satellite.
"Alphasat will be launched thanks to EU funds, EIB loans and private sector entrepreneurship. It will help Europe's space industry to innovate, contribute to jobs in the knowledge economy and bring much-needed services to people in remote regions," said research, innovation and science commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn in an EC statement.
The delivery of the prototype satellite is expected in first quarter of 2012 and will be launched in French Guiana by an Ariane space rocket in 2012 or 2013, according to Inmarsat. It is expected to cost around €598m in total and will benefit mobile communications not only in Europe, but in the Middle East and Africa as well.
"One thing that it will bring is high-speed and mobile communications to places that do not yet have them," said Mark English, an spokesman for research, innovation and science at the commission.
The satellite is part of an ESA initiative to develop a new spacecraft platform capable of carrying a large communications payload. It will be open to use by research organisations, and its first payloads will be four technological demonstrations from academic, industry and space organisations. According to the EC, it will be used for maritime, aeronautical and land mobile applications, and should help medical and emergency services.
Alphasat will be the first satellite to be launched using a next-generation satellite 'bus', which is an interface for satellite components. The bus has been developed by the ESA and the French space agency CNES.