My day in orbit

Maps of the world flash on the wall while teams of people beaver away at computers in dimmed light.

A crisis occurs and I am swiftly ushered into the next room. I think I see a bald man emerge through some sliding doors stroking a white cat.

Alas I was not in a Bond-villain’s lair. I was at the City of London headquarters of Inmarsat – purveyors of the increasingly common satellite communications found on cruising yachts.

I was surprised by the scale of the operation. Inmarsat is a FTSE-100 company that has thrived despite the recession. Three third generation Inmarsat-4 satellites were recently launched, which are among the most advanced commercial communications satellites ever launched and support the latest generation mobile broadband services. They cover ever metre of the globe except the polar regions.

Already it is working on Inmarsat-5, which will launch in 2014 and offer 20-times the capacity per satellite than Inmarsat-4.

I wasn’t fortunate enough to see the satellites being manufactured, but got a glimpse of how the whole operation is kept running smoothly.

The maps of the world pinpoint exactly how many people are trying to communicate via the system in each area. Unsurprisingly the Dover Straits feature as high a concentration as anywhere in the world.

This allows staff to switch the network’s capabilities to the areas where they are most needed.

If someone attempts to make a call, but is repeatedly unsuccessful, their area of the globe flashes pink and is are labelled an ‘angry man’. Everybody sets to work trying to sort out their problem and make them less angry.

I never discovered what that crisis was, but it was solved swiftly and with an eerie calm. Rumour has it they turned the system on and off again.

Courtesy of Global Telesat.