A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket blazed a trail to space today with the last launch of 2016 out of Florida’s Cape Canaveral. Thanks to a trio of solid rocket boosters, the Atlas raced to orbit, carrying with it a high-tech communications satellite. The powerful new broadband satellite, dubbed EchoStar XIX (19) will revolutionize how people connect to the internet.

The satellite was built by Space Systems Loral (SSL) of Palo Alto, California and during a launch broadcast, Dave Pidgeon, vice president of EchoStar operations at SSL, described the satellite: “This is the most complicated satellite we’ve ever built,” Pidgeon explained. “Almost a million people hours have gone into building the satellite.”

From its geosynchronous orbital perch — roughly 22,300 miles high — the satellite will match the Earth’s rotational speed while it remains parked above one spot on the globe. This allows the spacecraft to beam service to HughesNet across North America, providing coverage over spotty areas.

The launch of Echo Star XIX is the 115th overall launch for ULA.
The launch of Echo Star XIX is the 115th overall launch for ULA. 

Pigeon said that the geostationary orbit makes the satellite appear to be fixed, and that its orbit will provide high bandwidth capability to millions of customers.

He explained that signals travel to and from the satellite to a small dish, which then transmits the signal to ground stations, then to routers within your home, allowing you to surf the web, stream videos, and much more without lag or dropped signals.

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“Thanks to Echo Star, this all happens in milli-seconds, since the signals travel at the speed of light,” Pigeon explained. “And as we know, the speed of light is really fast.”

One of the major benefits of using satellites 22,300 miles away is to provide internet connections to users in areas where other types of terrestrial network connections — such as cable and fiber — are unavailable.

But that’s not all. The services provided by Echo Star also extend to coverage in the air. So next time you are trying to access the internet while on a plane, be sure to think of Echo Star. The satellite will begin servicing customers on passenger jets next summer. According to the company’s website, Echo Star XIX and the company’s new high-speed aero terminal will provide passengers with surfing speeds of over 200 megabits.

An avionics issue cropped up shortly before the original T-0, but crews were able to work through the issue and Atlas rocketed into orbit at 2:13 p.m. Eastern. Today’s launch marked the 12th and final launch of the year for ULA, and the 115th overall since the company formed in 2006.

Photos via ULA