These satellites allows customers to make calls from anywhere in the world. Iridium plans to launch 72 satellites between 2015 and 2017 (66 operational satellites and 6 on-orbit spares), although exactly how many SpaceX will be launching is unknown as Iridium will also be contracting with one or two other launch service providers.
The contract is seen as a huge vote of confidence in newcomer SpaceX, and it is hoped may provide a shot in the arm to the space launch industry in general, which has seen formerly high flyers like Sea Launch fall on hard times.
However, there is a feeling of deja-vu about this. Back in the 1990s, when Iridium was launching its first constellation, it was hoped that a number of competing satellite phone businesses would provide a large customer base that would fuel growth and, thanks to economies of scale, drive down the cost of launching satellites into orbit. It was not to be – the original company that built the current Iridium constellation, which launched in an incredibly short time of 12 months during 1997 and 1998, quickly went bankrupt. The current owners were able to buy the constellation for a fraction of what it cost to build. Competitors, like GlobalStar, also experienced severe financial problems. In part, the problem was that by the time the talk-anywhere satellites had been financed, designed, built, and orbited, an inexpensive terrestrial cell phone network had expanded, tower by tower, over much of the places humans lived, including places where no-one expected cell-phone networks to flourish, like Africa.
The rosy growth predictions for the satellite launch industry evaporated, leading to years of stagnation. Still, Iridium and GlobalStar have managed to establish viable businesses for travelers either going to truly out of the way places and those who can’t or don’t want to deal with hooking up to the local cell phone network. Hopefully history will not repeat itself and more stable pattern of growth for the launch industry will emerge this time around, finally helping to drive down the price tag of getting to orbit.
How Facebook and Google fund global misinformation
The tech giants are paying millions of dollars to the operators of clickbait pages, bankrolling the deterioration of information ecosystems around the world.
DeepMind says it will release the structure of every protein known to science
The company has already used its protein-folding AI, AlphaFold, to generate structures for the human proteome, as well as yeast, fruit flies, mice, and more.
Inside the machine that saved Moore’s Law
The Dutch firm ASML spent $9 billion and 17 years developing a way to keep making denser computer chips.
This is what happens when you see the face of someone you love
The moment we recognize someone, a lot happens all at once. We aren’t aware of any of it.
Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review
Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.