Front Page
Global Links
Partner Sites
Press Room
Contact Us
NewsInsider - Main Graphic  


The NI Focus: The LEO Satellites Projects

A Look at the LEO Satellites Projects

10 January 2001

LEOS (Low Earth Orbiting Satellites) represent the latest technological achievement of satellite and space engineering. The main difference between them and previous generations of satellites is their characteristically low orbital altitude. They fly at an altitude that can vary between 600m and 2,000km. Compare this to the 36,000km of the old fashioned Geo-stationary satellites and you know where "Low" comes from.

Due to their low orbits, LEOS can easily communicate with a handheld device, unlike their predecessors, which required the large antennas that most of us are familiar with. That is the main reason for which LEOS have attracted a great deal of academic and commercial interest. For the first time in engineering history, a communication device connected directly to a satellite was small enough to fit into a pocket (large pocket, but still a pocket). Furthermore, the cost of placing LEOS in orbit is a small fraction of the usual price required for Geo-stationary satellites. Unfortunately, such major advantages didn't come without a price: LEOS are far more complex devices than the older birds. Comparatively speaking, the engineering challenges posed by LEOS are immense.

Difficult or not, though, it didn't take long before the big interests of the telecommunications and defense industries realized LEOS represent the first step to a world-wide wireless coverage. Telephony is no longer tied to cables. Whether stuck in a Nairobi traffic jam or jogging in an Anchorage suburb, a LEOS satellite somewhere will soon be able to offer voice and data services. Industrial giants like Motorola and Qualcomm have invested enormous resources on the race for LEOS. Three major projects have thus far appeared: Iridium (backed by Motorola), Globalstar (backed by Qualcomm) and Teledesic (backed by Microsoft). Iridium was the first to fly but not for long: this project of huge proportions, backed by the largest high-tech company on the planet is now bankrupt!!! And it seems that Globalstar will be the next to follow. The reasons are yet to be determined: bad management, expensive devices and rates, a project ahead of its time and, of course some conspiracy theories, are presented in the articles that accompany this editorial. The articles cover various aspects related to the Iridium project. We'd like to believe that they reflect the diversity of the opinions behind one of the most ambitious human projects ever.

Sure enough, the destiny of LEOS is still a white board. Yet, history teaches us that it is the military/intelligence complex that first enjoys the monopolistic use of such technological breakthroughs. Another high-tech toy awaits the resurrected Cold Warriors of the Bush administration.© The News Insider 2001

Copyright notice

The use of the editorials published on this site is free, as long as News Insider is notified and referred to as the source of the information cited. We believe in the free sharing of information, but we do not encourage plagiarism. If our editorials are of use to you, please contact us to let us know. Thank you for your cooperation.

© The News Insider