WASHINGTON — British satellite operator Inmarsat announced Dec. 5 it will be the first commercial customer of the next-generation H3 rocket from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries of Japan.
Inmarsat has not identified a satellite for the H3 launch, which is targeted for 2022 — about two years after the rocket is slated to make its debut.
The H3 announcement marks the second launch contract Inmarsat has awarded to Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI). In September 2017, Inmarsat chose the H2-A for a 2020 launch of Inmarsat-6 F1, the company’s first sixth-generation communication satellite.
MHI has been designing the H3 rocket since 2014 as a single replacement for the H2-A rocket it uses for satellite launches and the H2-B rocket it uses for International Space Station resupply missions. The company hopes to launch six to 10 H3 rockets a year, with the bulk of the increase over today’s launch rate of three to four a year coming from the commercial sector.
MHI has blamed limited production capacity and spaceport infrastructure for its low launch rate, and is upgrading infrastructure to alleviate both. The H3 is also expected to cost less on a per-kilogram basis than MHI’s current launchers.
In a statement, Inmarsat CEO Rupert Pearce said the company views the H3 as a “world-class innovation and one that will deliver an effective and efficient service to place future Inmarsat satellites into orbit.”
As the H3 nears introduction, MHI has started to pick up business outside of Japan with the current H2-A, a rocket with 34 successful launches since a 2003 failure.
MHI began selling launch services in 2007 when the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency privatized H2-A launch operations.
MHI’s first mission for a non-Japanese customer was in 2012 when it launched the Korea Aerospace Research Institute’s Kompsat-3 Earth-observation satellite. In 2014, MHI gained more international experience with the Global Precipitation Measurement mission, a joint satellite program between NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency that launched on an H2-A.
MHI’s first launch for a commercial satellite operator occurred in 2015 with the Telstar-12 Vantage telecom satellite for Canadian operator Telesat.
MHI launched the Dubai-based Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre’s KhalifaSat Earth-observation satellite in October as a co-passenger with Japan’s Greenhouse gases Observing SATellite, GOSAT-2, also on an H2-A.
MHI has two other commercial H2-A missions on its manifest: Inmarsat-6 F1 and the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre’s Hope Mars orbiter. Both launches are scheduled for 2020.
“Today, development of the H3 Launch Vehicle is proceeding steadily forward under the leadership of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), with MHI serving as primary contractor working closely with key component manufacturers,” Masahiro Atsumi, MHI vice president and senior general manager for space systems, said in a statement. “We greatly appreciate the high evaluation made by Inmarsat during this development phase and, working closely with JAXA and government agencies, we will do everything possible to ensure that development results in a new flagship launch vehicle fully meeting the customer’s high expectations.”