Satellite operator Inmarsat struck a deal with Swiss aerospace company Swissto12 to develop its eighth-generation spacecraft for launch by 2026, designed to provide safety and support services for emergency tracking.

Inmarsat stated three new Inmasat-8 (I-8) small satellites will secure the future of it global L-band safety service, providing additional network resilience to complement its existing constellation and two I-6 generation satellites launched in December 2021 and February 2023.

The I-8 satellites will use Swissto12’s HummingSat satellite platform, 3D-printing technologies and specialised RF and payload products to develop and manufacture geostationary (GEO) satellites.

Launches will employ a new class of spacecraft from Swissto12.

Inmarsat noted its I-8 birds have a form-factor up to five-times smaller than conventional GEO satellites, with a volume of 1.5 cubic metres.

It stated testing of the first I-6 bird was completed in March, with commercial Ka-band services underway in Asia-Pacific. It plans to begin adding L-band capacity and transferring services to the satellite across the rest of the year.

The I-6 satellite launched in February is expected to enter operational service over Europe, Africa and much of the Americas in early 2024.

Inmarsat’s I-8 birds will enable global Satellite-Based Augmentation System (SBAS) services, for example for air traffic controllers or coastguards, with  systems use satellite connectivity, land-based infrastructure and software for precise tracking.

It noted this can help emergency services to reach vessels in distress more quickly, while opening up other industrial use cases.

CTO Peter Hadinger said “the I-8’s will not only underpin our existing capabilities for the future, but enable ever more advanced safety innovations like SBAS that can ultimately help save more lives”.

Inmarsat is currently subject to a takeover bid by rival Viasat, which is seeking regulatory clearance for the deal.