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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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  • Skynet (Score:5, Funny)

    by TheKidWho (705796) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @03:02AM (#32441574)

    This is it, once google connects to this network, we will never be able to turn it off once it becomes sentient...

    Whose to say it hasn't and slyly guided the engineers to push this technology as part of its plan...

    • by Cryacin (657549)
      What the hell are you talking about? They've just wheeled out and dusted off the good old White Elephant catapult.
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      How to game the slashbots:

      1) Make a vacuous post about any new technology leading to Skynet
      2) Reap moderations

      Seriously, we see this shit every god damn thread. It's not funny, it's not original. Go to hell.

      • by TheKidWho (705796)

        It wasn't funny, I'm being serious here. Be prepared because the end is near.

  • Cameras?? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by spectrokid (660550) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @03:15AM (#32441618) Homepage
    Just one little sentence. They will include cameras as well. WTF?? Privatised spying? Own your own weather-sat? Delivering Google-earth quality pictures (or better) is not only going to take one hell of a lens, but also a hefty infrastructure on the ground. They must have a solid business case. This isn't like putting a "camera" on a 50€ cellphone.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by f3rret (1776822)

      This is Iridium we're talking about, they don't worry about details like "buisiness plans". When they first rolled out their service their business plan depended on the fact it would eventualy be as pervasive as cellular phones and that sure worked out fine.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Barsamin (1534423)

        Sure they couldn't recoup their costs... but they made it up in volume!

      • by timeOday (582209)
        Iridium Satellite LLC is actually profitable, unlike the original Iridium LLC which went bankrupt promptly after launching the system and sold it to Iridium Satellite for pennies on the dollar.

        That said, I don't know to what extent the actual management personnel changed. Maybe the bankruptcy and sale was just a big shell game to screw over the first wave of creditors and investors.

        • by sjames (1099)

          Note that even at pennies on the dollar for their infrastructure they still had to charge big bux for the service and depended on a military contract.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by default luser (529332)

          Iridium Satellite LLC is actually profitable, unlike the original Iridium LLC which went bankrupt promptly after launching the system and sold it to Iridium Satellite for pennies on the dollar.

          Yeah, funny how it gets a lot easier to run the business when Motorola assumes the 5 billion of debt and sells it to you for $25 million. The success of Iridium Satellite LLC is subsidized by the ashes of the original company.

          Proper management made the difference after the sale removed the debt, but even if the comp

      • 20/20 hindsight (Score:3, Insightful)

        by DerekLyons (302214)

        When they first rolled out their service their business plan depended on the fact it would eventualy be as pervasive as cellular phones and that sure worked out fine.

        You have to keep in mind that when planning started for these services (and Iridium wasn't the only one) in the mid 1990's, it wasn't at all clear that cell phone services would expand as fast and penetrate as deeply as they ended up doing. Back then, cell phones were high tech toys with coverage largely limited to major urban areas.

        As

        • by blair1q (305137)

          Iridium was planned in the late 80s, when cell phones were exotic and rare. It expected to cover the 90% of the world that didn't have cell service, to act as a pay-telephone in remote villages, etc.

          It took 10 years to get the system up to a marketable state (it wasn't late; that was the schedule to design, build, test, and deploy the dozens of satellites, multiple ground stations, and multiple brands of handsets). By that time a vast majority of the anticipated market was served by cellphones and by high

        • Yeah, just ask Bill Gates how his Teledesic [wikipedia.org] investment is coming along.
    • Just to pipe up in support of camera-phones, how many news reports have you seen illustrated with photos or even video taken on a phone. In good light some of these cameras can actually be half decent for your joe blogs, not great, but who really carried a DSLR everywhere they go.

      Im not sure how this translates to satellites, but i just wanted to put some support for cameraphones out there.
    • Privatised spying.. (Score:3, Interesting)

      by wiredog (43288)

      Ever heard of GeoEye? [geoeye.com]

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

      by spectrokid (660550) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @07:15AM (#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: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by LWATCDR (28044)

      Actually You may be surprised. Yes it will not be you average point and shoot but these are in a pretty low orbit. You get a professional medium format body with a good 40 MP CCD for around$10,000 combine sensor that with good optics and space rate it and the entire package would probably run under $100,000. Of course you may want IR as well as visual range but the overall cost will still be manageable.
      How good can you get? I am not sure. Probably not as good as the best Google earth pictures but maybe two

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by tyldis (712367)

      You probably do not realize that the images Google Earth uses are largely collected by private satellites?
      GeoEye is one of them, for instance. DigitalGlobe operates several as well.

      As for hefty infrastructure on the ground; there are companies selling ground station services. I work for one of them and it doesn't cost you much to buy a time slot to communicate with your satellite. Heck, we offer the complete process, you only need TCP/IP (or ISDN if you are conservative). The launch does not have to be too

  • Business Plan? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by backslashdot (95548) * on Thursday June 03, 2010 @03:29AM (#32441704)

    I really hope they solved the 3 issues with their previous attempt: 1. Cost per minute of usage 2. Need for huge antennas (adds to bulk/weight) 3. Massive battery required (makes the phone bulky/heavier).

    • Re:Business Plan? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Biogenesis (670772) <{ua.moc.emohsutp ... erb.rekcolcrevo}> on Thursday June 03, 2010 @03:58AM (#32441882) Homepage
      As a suburban inhabitant who's used to small mobile phones it's natural for you to assume that satellite phone size is a major issue, but for people who would regularly require satellite phones they only need to have a better cost:performance* ratio than remote communication alternatives, such as HF radio.

      *performance in this context would be a subjective measure which includes factors such as reliability, size, weight etc.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by 15Bit (940730)
        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 wan
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Kjella (173770)

          Iridium appeals to users who need connectivity everywhere on the planet,

          And needs it in a fairly mobile and battery-efficient matter in between cell phones and a big fixed installation. Part of Iridium's problem was from what I understood that you need quite many satellites for coverage, the wikipedia page says 66, and being in LEO they also need a lot of boosting to stay in orbit. If you're doing something like setting up a remote science station, my impression was that you'd rather throw up a huge dish and talk directly to a GEO satellite because in total it's cheaper. Around

          • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @07:33AM (#32442732) Journal
            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...
            • Re:Business Plan? (Score:5, Informative)

              by ptbarnett (159784) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @08:01AM (#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 @08:29AM (#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.
                • Re:Business Plan? (Score:4, Interesting)

                  by zulux (112259) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @11:33AM (#32445324) Homepage Journal

                  A friend borrowed my Iridium phone and had to use their emergency services (911) - the call center that they were hooked up to was in his words "frighteningly competent." ...

                  Rambling Iridium thoughts:

                  I've enjoyed the service myself - with the phone and and a Psion Revo (It has a native serial port), I can telnet to any of my severs while in the woods. Strangely, it let's me relax knowing that I can help out my users.

                  At around 2400 baud - don't use SSH. Oh... Screen is your friend as it does cut out enough.

                  If you use a PC - it come with some proxy software and a proxy server that will remove/compress images, but any computer with a serial port can use it as a modem. Sadly, modern pdas lack serial ports, but old Posion Revos/5-series are cheap, last a long time, and have awesome keyboards and work well.

                  I have an older Motorola Iridium phone, so I don't know if this setup would work with the more modern phones.

                  • by blair1q (305137)

                    >At around 2400 baud - don't use SSH.

                    interesting. I never thought about the overhead SSH adds to the data. I would expect it would have some setup and teardown handshaking and then put the effort on the endpoints to do the encryption, but wouldn't add much to the data stream. Lower data rates would mean the terminals would have all the time in the world to encrypt and decrypt, meaning lower is easier, not harder.

                    How much more data is transmitted in a packet than would be for non-SSH traffic?

              • by markxz (669696)

                The US department of defence also owns a ground reception station for their exclusive use (the network can also make calls between phones without going via a ground station)

                http://gcn.com/articles/1998/11/09/disa-establishes-portal-for-telecom-satellite-system.aspx [gcn.com]

          • being in LEO they also need a lot of boosting to stay in orbit

            The Iridium constellation is up around 500 miles. They need very little reboosting, especially as compared to things much lower like the ISS.

            If you're doing something like setting up a remote science station, my impression was that you'd rather throw up a huge dish and talk directly to a GEO satellite because in total it's cheaper.

            In the higher latitudes that becomes problematical. In Antarctica it's essentially impossible.

            Ultim

        • by MarkGriz (520778)

          It surprises me that they have enough users to be able to afford this upgrade.

          They probably don't, much like their previous incarnation. The vendors they screw over in Chapter 11 will likely foot the bill, and we'll see the emergence of Iridium v3.

    • Re:Business Plan? (Score:5, Informative)

      by eudean (966608) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @04:03AM (#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.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Alioth (221270)

        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 $300

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          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

          If they halved the price, they could possibly quadruple the number of subscribers. There's a number of people who would like to have a satellite phone but have NOTHING that suits their needs because they can't afford anything that works where they need a phone. We'll never know, though, unless they cut prices sharply.

          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.

          Data plans regularly cost people $1200 a year; I think just being able to make phone calls from anywhere is probably worth that much to many people. It's certainly more important for many peopl

          • by asc99c (938635)

            > If they halved the price, they could possibly quadruple the number of subscribers

            I don't believe that at all. The market is miniscule because it's a niche product. As others have said, for most purposes a standard mobile network will suffice. For fixed but remote installations, its easier to put up a dish and use that. Typically for stuff like cruise ships, they just stick a cell tower on the boat. So Iridium is only ever going to be used by small groups of people wandering about in the wilderness

            • by drinkypoo (153816)

              So Iridium is only ever going to be used by small groups of people wandering about in the wilderness. I don't think reducing the price would cause more people to want to do that.

              There's already a shitload of people who are doing that, many of whom cannot afford a satellite phone at current prices. Some of them would surely buy a satellite phone if it were cheaper. We could argue about what the numbers are like all day. Also, a lot of people would USE their satellite phone more if it were cheaper; I've run into a number of people who buy a phone (or at least SIM, but usually a whole phone costs little or even no more and you can lose it without caring much) when they visit a foreign

          • If they halved the price, they could possibly quadruple the number of subscribers.

            That assumes there are no capacity restrictions. While I can't say for certain I suspect their pricing is due to technical limitations of the satellites. They probably can only handle a certain number of subscribers and if they tried to get more they couldn't adequately serve them. If they are capacity limited (and I'm just hypothesizing that they are) almost the worst thing that could happen to them would be to get too many customers. Too much business too quickly can kill a company almost as effective

        • by markxz (669696)

          The terrestrial mobile phone networks are reducing their roaming costs (In the EU they are being forced to) so this is likely to reduce the cost benefit of satellite phones for global businesspeople.

        • by zulux (112259)

          Iridium airtime generally costs around $1.50 per min if you shop around. you can get prepaid service at around $2.00 per min, or with a big enough pool of minutes you can get it down to $1.0 or so.

          The airtime is cheap enough that I brought mine to Japan and Europe so I didn't have to pay crazy roaming costs. Oddly it was a great conversation starter in Japan - people assumed I was some sort of awesome dude to have a sat phone.

          Really oddly, I have an original Motorola Iridium phone and it's value has gone up

    • by fpitech (1559147)
      I don't think they can solve the first problem you described. Launching satellites is still expensive, and there's only a small market for satellite phones. Cell coverage is even better than during the first Iridium, except maybe uninhabited areas or outside of cities in some third world countries.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by ickleberry (864871)
      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 da
    • by evilviper (135110)

      1. You didn't list a price. I'm pretty sure they aren't going to "solve" that one (by making it free).

      2. If I could get better sound quality, fewer drop-outs, etc., I'd love to have a large (lightweight) antenna on my cell phone, provided it would work (as well as it does currently) if I happen to leave it retracted...

      3. Li-Ion batteries are getting better all the time.

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

    by AffidavitDonda (1736752) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @03:36AM (#32441758)
    bbc has a nice article on that too: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science_and_environment/10212836.stm [bbc.co.uk]
  • by confused one (671304) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @05:43AM (#32442318)
    I could have sworn launching the first set of satellites bankrupted the original Iridium owner. Not that that's ever stopped anyone.
    • by colinnwn (677715)
      Of course I mused about this when I read the headline.

      But there are some important differences. When Iridium was starting, it was basically a "If we build it, they will come" business plan. There were some vague competitors with significant disadvantages like Inmarsat with almost global and very expensive coverage, and world phones that worked in most metro areas internationally and were much cheaper, but Iridium was the first into this new market segment. So Iridium didn't know what their end cost, reve
  • by ctrl-alt-canc (977108) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @06:20AM (#32442448)

    I hope they will be less reflective [wikipedia.org]. Their flares cause troubles to astronomers.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by drinkypoo (153816)

      I hope they will be less reflective. Their flares cause troubles to astronomers.

      If astronomy is disturbed by satellites, then astronomy is what needs to change. We need more of them, and such problems will only become more commonplace.

      • Slashdot would be better off without moderation and with superior relationship controls so that you could use a web of trust in lieu of moderation. The above is clearly not a troll. We need more orbital astronomy equipment, and hopefully, a large complex on the moon which would be far superior to anything on earth due to avoidance of atmospheric interference. Maybe the Japanese can build one with robots.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Trogre (513942)

      Are you kidding? Iridium flares are one of the coolest and most predictable transient events in the night sky that can be seen with the naked eye.

    • by The Grim Reefer2 (1195989) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @07:40AM (#32442776)

      I was wondering the same, as well as if they would be a predictive as the current ones. My 6 YO enjoys seeing them so we check the schedule at heavens-above.com [heavens-above.com] regularly for bright ones at "reasonable" times.

      • by blair1q (305137)

        my two favorites:

        1. A double flare within a few seconds of each other.

        2. A meteor crossing just behind an Iridium flare. It was a bit dimmer and about the same arc-length as the iridum flare, but was much quicker; tenths of a second rather than a second or two; clearly not another satellite.

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