In July and August 1995 TRW was granted US patents related to the operation of a constellation of communications satellites in medium orbit which, it argued, would pose ''serious challenges to competitors who wish to provide similar services''.30 This was a reference to ICO. However, while TRW planned 12 satellites in three orbital planes, ICO intended to use 10 satellites in two planes, and while a TRW satellite would have 37 beams, an ICO satellite would have 160 beams. ICO said that the only feature the two systems had in common was the operating altitude. In essence, TRW claimed the rights to medium orbit, which it defined to be altitudes between 10,000 and 18,000 kilometres.31 Motorola's Iridium and Loral's GlobalStar were not affected, as they were intended to operate below this zone. The root of the dispute was a contract issued by Inmarsat to TRW in 1993, as one of several independent
An artist's impression of an ICO satellite, with (in the background) a depiction of the entire constellation.
studies to investigate how it might provide global mobile communications. TRW reported on the 'concept' of medium orbit, for which an architecture had never really been developed previously.32 Of course, when Inmarsat set out to develop such a system, TRW had expected to receive the production contract, and when this was given to Hughes Space and Communications, it was argued that Inmarsat had given TRW's idea to a competitor.33^4 Undeterred by the dispute, on 3 October, ICO finalised the $1.4 billion contract with Hughes to supply 10 satellites based on its HS-601 bus rated at 8 kilowatts (the standard configuration provided typically 4.5 kilowatts) with a 10-year lifetime. At this time, Hughes invested $100 million in ICO. A second contract in December that authorised Hughes to arrange launch services for 'on-orbit delivery' increased the total contract value to $2.3 billion.3V6 With 40 satellites either in-build or on-order, Hughes had recently made bulk bookings with several of the launch providers.37 It gave three of the ICO satellites to Sea Launch, four to ILS (three for the Proton and one for the Atlas IIAS) and five to McDonnell Douglas for the new Delta III, all of which were to be launched over a 20-month interval starting in late 1998.38
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