European Space Agency
Paris, France

10 July 1998

First European payload for worldwide e-mail service launched

ESA's LLMS (Little LEO Messaging System) payload was launched with the Russian Earth observation satellite "Resours-N4" today 10 July at 08:30 hrs CEST, from the Baikonour launch site in Kazakhstan on board a Zenit launcher.

This new telecommunications payload will provide a low-cost, worldwide electronic mail (e-mail) commercial service dubbed IRIS, for Intercontinental Retrieval of Information via Satellite.

The host satellite, on an inclined polar orbit at 850 km altitude, will "view" any point on the Earth's surface at least twice a day and will collect and distribute e-mail (like a postman with conventional mail). Remote subscribers will need a relatively inexpensive dedicated small satellite modem (half the size of a portable PC). Automatic data collection will also be possible.

The hub station, located in Spitsbergen (at 78 deg N), will load and retrieve messages from the satellite once per orbit and interface with public data networks to connect users via a service centre in Brussels, Belgium.

The target customers for that service are people travelling in remote areas or at sea without access to terrestrial communications who need to exchange a few messages a day at low cost. Large organisations with staff in remote areas of the world are a typical example.

For ESA this is a small project of a new kind in which special efforts have been made to reduce development costs and duration and to capitalize on several years of spread spectrum technology development. The contractual aspects are also innovative, with delivery in orbit and a commitment by the prime contractor to offer a commercial service.

Under an ESA ceiling-price turnkey-contract, the prime contractor SAIT Systems of Brussels, Belgium, undertook not only to develop, but also to launch and commercially operate LLMS/IRIS for an initial period of 3 years. This concept is in line with the evolution of ESA's procurement approach, asking industry to fully assume the programmatic, technical and financial responsibility for close-to market missions.

Development of this advanced communication payload under the leadership of SAIT systems, was carried out by European companies of Belgium (SAIT Devlonics, Alcatel Bell), Germany (OHB), Spain (SEMA), and the UK (Warberry Communications). IMEC vzw, Barco-Silex and Verhaert D&D, also of Belgium, were involved at the level of the LLMS modem, while subcontracts with NPP WNIIEM of Moscow, Russia and with the Norwegian Space Center covered respectively the payload accommodation with launch and the hub station installation in Spitsbergen.

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