Iridium launches new satellites

spectr17

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Iridium launches new satellites

11 February 02

Will Knight,  NewScientist.com

The renaissance of the Iridium satellite constellation is complete following the first new satellite launches since the original company went bankrupt in 2000.

After three delays for separate reasons, five satellites blasted off on a Boeing Delta II rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 1743 GMT on Monday.

Lift-off was originally scheduled for 8 February, but was cancelled because of strong winds at the launch pad. Launch was rescheduled for Saturday but was again cancelled, this time because of a problem with the instruments used to relay data from the rocket to an aircraft, once it has flown out of range of ground stations.

A third attempted launch on Sunday was cancelled when engineers discovered a malfunctioning fuel sensor in the rocket's first stage propellant tank. All sensors in the tank were replaced.

For each attempt there was just a five second window during which launch could take place. This is because the orbiting constellation of Iridium satellites must be in exactly the right position.


Spare parts


The satellites will act as spares for the 66 operational Iridium satellites. They will orbit the Earth at a slightly lower position, along with seven other reserves satellites already in orbit. Two more spare satellites are planned for launch in June 2002. Iridium went bankrupt after failing to cover multi-billion dollar debts incurred in building and maintaining its satellite constellation. Its satellite phone service was more expensive than the newer cellular services, though it had global coverage. Shortly afterwards, the company secured a lucrative US Department of Defence contract.

A company using the name Iridium Satellite LLC bought the original Iridium's satellite constellation and other assets for $20 million in December 2000. The Defense Department contract for guaranteed airtime gave the company a new lease of life, says John Pike of US think-tank Global Security.

"The Defense Department contract is contributing more than enough to pay for maintaining the constellation and launching whatever satellites Iridium has left," Pike told New Scientist.

But Pike thinks that Iridium phones may be being used for low priority US military operations in Afghanistan. "I suspect that the satellite phones given to Afghan warlords are Iridiums," he says.

The Iridium constellation has a limited lifespan. Some of the company's satellites are expected to start falling back to Earth in the second half of the decade. An independent study recently concluded that Iridium's service should be functional until at least 2010.
 



marmot

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<font face=arial size=1><blockquote><hr noshade size=1>Quote: from spectr17 on 6:23 pm on Feb. 13, 2002
Iridium launches new satellites

11 February 02
<hr noshade size=1></blockquote></font>

Interesting stuff. Living at the end of the world, a satellite phone would be a big plus for me.

I have been looking into service and it is amazing that you can get good service for $20 to $25 a month, about the same as I spent for cell phone service. Talk time is about $1.50 a minute but for emergency calls and the occasional short check in call, it would be inexpensive.

The butt kicker is that the phone itself costs about $850 for a Motorola and about $650 for a no name knockoff. The Motorolas were going for $150 when Iridium was tango/uniform but I wasn't smart enough to grab one.

Soon as the phone price goes down, I will get one.
 

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