Inmarsat grabs the MacRobert engineering prize

Artists' impression of a satellite in space BGAN relies on a network of satellites in geostationary orbit

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The UK's top engineering prize has been won by Inmarsat, for its Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN) service.

Inmarsat's team was awarded the prize for having successfully overcome "formidable" engineering challenges.

The BGAN service comprises a network of satellites which offer near global coverage for voice and data calls.

The MacRobert Prize is awarded by the Royal Academy of Engineering to recognise innovative ideas.

MacRobert Award judging panel chairman Geoff Robinson said: "The Inmarsat team had the vision to see the demand for a global broadband service, and the courage to invest significant time and money in developing it."

Disaster relief

Inmarsat's BGAN is used by media companies all over the world, enabling them to broadcast from remote or disaster-struck locations.

But it is also popular with companies, governments and non-governmental organisations, and has become a key tool for aid agencies and emergency services involved in disaster relief.

BGAN satellite in rocket nose cone The BGAN satellites feature an innovative unfurling antenna

Just days after the devastating earthquake in Haiti, close to 500 individual terminals accessed the BGAN "spot beam" over the country.

Dr Robinson said: "That their service can deliver such tremendous humanitarian benefits, in addition to the technical and commercial ones, must be a source of great satisfaction to this outstanding team."

The £50,000 prize is split between four Inmarsat employees based at the firm's London headquarters: Eugene Jilg, chief technology officer for Inmarsat; Marcus Vilaca, chief scientist; Franco Carnevale, director, space segment engineering; and Alan Howell, director, system network engineering.

Inmarsat faced tough competition to win the award, which is co-ordinated each year by Britain's Royal Academy of Engineering.

The other shortlisted companies were Chas A Blatchford and Sons for the world's first self-aligning ankle-foot prosthesis; Cobham Technical Services for the Minehound dual sensor landmine detector; and Lucite International for its Alpha process, which is a greener way of making a key ingredient of acrylic plastic.

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