by Joseph Weisenthal

A Tough Week For The Satellite Industry

from the on-the-launchpad dept

In previous posts questioning the business model behind the satellite radio companies, we've pointed out that just the process of sending satellites into space and maintaining them is no simple matter. It's quite costly and complicated, and adds a lot of risk to any company whose business is based around satellite communications. The past several days has seen further confirmation of this point. Last week, a commercial satellite launch resulted in a major explosion. The resulting damage to its launchpad could hamper plans at DirecTV to launch more satellites later this year. Adding to the industry's woes, satellite communications company Globalstar has announced that it's encountering major technical problems with many of its satellites currently in the sky. Not only is it not sure what's causing the problems, but it's not sure whether it'll be able to fix them. So far, it's only found temporary workarounds, and it warned, in a filing to the SEC that "...if the Company is unsuccessful in developing additional technical solutions, the quality of two-way communications services will decline, and by some time in 2008 substantially all of the Company's currently in-orbit satellites will cease to be able to support two-way communications services." The company may in fact find a fix before then, but in light of all these costs and technical problems, it's easy to understand why the history of satellite based businesses has been littered with so many failures.

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  • identicon
    Enrico Suarve, 6 Feb 2007 @ 9:33am

    A possible alternative?

    I take it everyone still thinks 'Stratellies' are still a dumb idea?

    How nice would it be to be able to pull on a piece of string/let out a little air and actually touch the technology about now?

    OK they might not be able to circumnavigate messages as easily but I bet in the long run they'd be cheaper...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Howard Lee Harkness, 6 Feb 2007 @ 12:08pm

      Re: A possible alternative? [Stratellies]

      I like the "stratellite" idea.

      Routing traffic shouldn't be a problem. That sort of problem has already been nicely solved in a variety of ways.

      A balloon should also have substantially more payload than a satellite, and I'll bet the $3.0e7 launch price includes lots of non-recurring costs, and long-term maintenance should be easier. A lot of the technology is rapidly getting better, lighter, and cheaper (like the new high-efficiency CIGS solar cells, which can be made very thin).

      A combination of ground-based nodes in remote areas (e.g., mountaintops in the western, sparsely-populated states) and balloons over major metro areas (and open ocean, for relay) could expand coverage while keeping costs down and maintenance access easier. At 65000 ft altitude, a unit over Dallas should be line-of-sight from a unit over Dallas -- etc. Four or five balloons and a half-dozen ground stations could adequately cover Texas and the adjoining states.

      Lots of promise there.
      The Celtic Fiddler, Violins and Accessories

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    MT, 6 Feb 2007 @ 10:13am

    I think they will find that the sun us going apeshit right now, and it's only going to get worse. Our solar minimum has been acting like a nutty solar maximum for a while now from what I have read. If this is true, we will probably have a lot more satellite problems in the coming years.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Buzz, 6 Feb 2007 @ 11:44am

    Niche Job Market?

    Time to find some unemployeed astronaugts (that aren't in jail) and give them the service manuals for these satellites. ;-)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Conspiracy Theorist, 6 Feb 2007 @ 1:01pm


    Has anyone consulted the Chinese government? Hmmmm....

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Feb 2007 @ 1:53pm

    Conspiracy Theorist makes a good point- isn't the fact that the Chinese military is using satellites for target practice a bit of a downer as well?

    In any case, redundancy is needed, in addition to defense from the sun.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    |333173|3|_||3, 6 Feb 2007 @ 5:44pm

    Only one!

    The Chinese only shot one sattelite. Maybe NASA should rig hubble to crash into a major chinese satteliet (although with the reliability of bits of Hubble, it might well hit a crucial US one)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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