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Space Science

Iridium Pushes Ahead Satellite Project 80

Posted by samzenpus
from the space-business dept.
oxide7 writes "Iridium (IRDM) continues its push into the market for satellite data and telemetry services, as it announced the company that would build its second generation of satellites. Iridium's old network of 66 satellites was designed for voice calls; the new satellites will also be able to handle data more efficiently, and include cameras as well. The company also plans to share the satellite platforms with some scientists for use in studying the Earth."
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Iridium Pushes Ahead Satellite Project

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  • some more on Iridium (Score:5, Informative)

    by AffidavitDonda (1736752) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @02:36AM (#32441758)
    bbc has a nice article on that too: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science_and_environment/10212836.stm [bbc.co.uk]
  • Re:Business Plan? (Score:5, Informative)

    by eudean (966608) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @03:03AM (#32441904)
    Satellite communications is expensive (and naturally the market is smaller than terrestrial phones so even at the same cost the price per subscriber would need to be greater). Higher data rates require greater SNR and therefore larger antennas. Receivers also need to consume more power to acquire and process a low SNR signal. Perhaps they can improve these things incrementally, but they're kind of fundamental to the nature of their service.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 03, 2010 @03:13AM (#32441964)

    The first OSCAR ham radio satellite was paid for by collecting spare change from thousands ham radio operators around the planet, so there are small groups who have flown satellites.

  • Re:Business Plan? (Score:3, Informative)

    by 15Bit (940730) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @04:53AM (#32442346)
    This is true, but they still need a large user-base to pay for launching a constellation of satellites into space. This was the problem with Iridium v1 - it cost a fortune to setup and not enough people used it because microwave mobile networks were cheaper.

    The same problem still exists - the mobiles we all have and love are a better solution for the majority of the market, and that won't change with Iridium v2. Iridium appeals to users who need connectivity everywhere on the planet, and maybe those wanting extra privacy arising from not going via conventional networks. But thats not a lot of people in the overall scheme of things, especially when you are talking about putting up a load of satellites. It surprises me that they have enough users to be able to afford this upgrade.
  • Re:Business Plan? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Alioth (221270) <no@spam> on Thursday June 03, 2010 @06:12AM (#32442654) Journal

    Indeed, the market is minuscule. According to the BBC, Iridium only has around 360K subscribers. With an investment of close to $3bn when all is said and done for a system to last until 2030 (at best 20 years if they launched the satellites today) means each subscriber is going to have to pay around $420 a year just to cover the cost of the infrastructure - this is before any of the ongoing costs of running the system, staffing the company, profits, etc. Would any Iridium subscriber be paying less than $3000 per year for their service, with probably very little actual talk time or data transferred - certainly orders of magnitude less than, say, someone's iPhone contract. (Anyone here have an Iridium phone? How much does it cost?)

    While this is expensive compared to normal mobile phones, it's probably a good deal if you're in the middle of nowhere all the time.

  • Re:Cameras?? (Score:4, Informative)

    by spectrokid (660550) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @06:15AM (#32442660) Homepage
    The answer: For commercial, government and scientific organizations, Iridium NEXT will also offer new business and earth observation opportunities through hosted secondary payloads [iridium.com] on the 66 Iridium NEXT satellite network.
  • Re:Business Plan? (Score:3, Informative)

    by ickleberry (864871) <web@pineapple.vg> on Thursday June 03, 2010 @06:19AM (#32442676) Homepage
    A lot of the traffic on the new network (and current one) is from remote transceiver units rather than satellite phones. of course the new phones will be a lot smaller. there are satellite phones out there now that don't look a whole lot dissimilar to a normal smartphone but of course if it improves the performance I would rather carry around one that has a large antenna.

    The antenna isn't really an issue for me or anyone who really needs these phones. If it meant it would be more reliable, send faster data or better quality calls they could put a 3ft antenna on it and I wouldnt care
  • Re:Business Plan? (Score:5, Informative)

    by ptbarnett (159784) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @07:01AM (#32442932)

    On the plus side, they should be able to absolutely cash in on the heavily subsidized "US puppet warlords in dusty hellholes with dubious cell coverage who need to chat with their CIA handlers" market...

    Iridium satellites were about to be de-orbited, because no one stepped up to buy it even at the fire-sale price. Suddenly, a previously unknown company came out of nowhere to buy Iridium, and it already had a long-term contract with the US government that effectively guaranteed their long-term operating expenses.

    When Globalstar protested because the contract was held, the GAO put a hold on the contract. The Pentagon had the hold removed, citing national security. The GAO investigation apparently ended after the 100-day limit with no action.

    http://www.spaceandtech.com/digest/sd2001-01/sd2001-01-009.shtml [spaceandtech.com]

  • Re:Business Plan? (Score:4, Informative)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @07:29AM (#32443170) Journal
    Not to mention, of course, that said previously unknown company set up shop in the fine town of McLean, Virginia, which is within spitting distance of Langley, and a classic location for those who have business in Washington; but don't want to deal with actually having to live there. Neighbors include SAIC and Booz Allen Hamilton.

    They do have civilian customers of course; but you don't get the sense that the place was set up primarily for their benefit.
  • by Gilmoure (18428) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @09:03AM (#32444086) Journal

    Porn-Sat 1?

  • Re:Not true. (Score:3, Informative)

    by jandrese (485) <kensama@vt.edu> on Thursday June 03, 2010 @09:24AM (#32444366) Homepage Journal
    The problem is that Iridium data is a joke. 2400bps raw symbol rate, and you get even less than that, plus the handoffs can be touchy as one satellite passes over the horizon and another eeks into view. Inmarsat3 does 56kbps, and BGAN can go up into the hundreds of kbps.

    Iridium does have a latency advantage though, especially in mobile-to-mobile applications. It is, as you noted, suitable for low power or small form factor solutions as well, since Inmarsat needs an antenna the size of a large dinner plate while Iridium can get by with a slightly oversized cell phone aerial. Additionally, unless you buy a bulky mobile antenna, Inmarsat requires you to carefully point the antenna before you can use it, Iridium is happy as long as it is pointed vaguely up.

    If you need to transmit very small amounts of data in a small form factor, then Iridium is for you, but that is a decidedly niche market, especially when you start to consider the per-bit costs.
  • "Insightful"? Here's some insight: For instance, Google Finance lets me easily find three companies with names starting with Iridium, and since the article doesn't give the full name of the company, Iridium Communications Inc., the ticker symbol easily tells me which one they're talking about.

    Aside: When the original Iridium went bankrupt, Iridium Satellite LLC bought them out for $25 million, and it's that latter company that's now called Iridium Communications Inc. Getting all that?

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