Conceived as an experimental project, Marecs evolved to provide Europe with a major breakthrough in mobile telecommunications expertise. Several ESA Member States undertook in 1973 to fund a satellite programme that would demonstrate communications between ships and land stations linking into the public networks, at a time when vessels could call only on unpredictable short-wave radio.
In fact, Marecs (so named because it adapted ESA’s ECS design for a maritime application) became the agency’s first venture into the commercial satellite business. The two successfully-launched satellites were leased initially for 10 satellite-years to Inmarsat (International Maritime Satellite Organisation), which formally inaugurated its service on 1 February 1982. Marecs was designed to provide high-quality realtime voice, data and telex services for maritime users.
Marecs-A, the principal subject of this documentary, was launched during the night of 19/20 December 1981 from the Guiana Space Centre aboard Ariane 1 flight 04. It remained in Inmarsat service until 1991. The satellite was then used by ESA for experimental purposes until it was finally deactivated in August 1996.