Boom and bust


After NASA demonstrated the advantages of the high-capacity Ka-Band with its Advanced Communications Technology Satellite (ACTS) in 1993, companies sought licences from the US Federal Communications Commission to operate satellites offering global communications to mobile systems and to fixed sites in developing countries that lacked a conventional communications infrastructure.1;2;3 The

An artist's impression of the Advanced Communications Technology Satellite.

Commission required that any company granted a licence must start the construction of its first two satellites within one year of the licence being granted, finish them within four years, and have the entire constellation operating within six years. In January 1995 the Commission issued licences to Motorola-led Iridium,

Loral-led GlobalStar and TRW-led - Odyssey.4^5 In contrast to the established practice of operating geostationary communications relays, all of these proposals were for constellations in «»«-geostationary orbits.

An artist's impression of the Advanced Communications Technology Satellite.

A rosey forecast

In early 1995 the Teal Group, a market analysis company in Fairfax, Virginia, issued a forecast that over the next 10 years almost 1,000 satellites would require launching, 68 per cent of which would be for communications, with most of these placed in «»«-geostationary orbits.6 The increasingly competitive market for global anywhere-to-anywhere mobile telephone systems was confidently expected to generate $26 billion by 2005, and to have in excess of 33 million subscribers by 2012.7 In fact, the great fear was that industry would not be able to manufacture sufficient handsets to satisfy the demand when the systems entered service in 1998! As a result of competition for the limited operating frequencies, and the high cost of establishing the requisite satellite constellations, this market was expected to be dominated by a small number of well-financed companies. With so many satellites to be deployed, the future for the launch vehicle companies looked good.

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