The NI Focus: The LEO Satellites Projects
Look at the LEO Satellites Projects
10 January 2001
LEOS (Low Earth Orbiting Satellites) represent
the latest technological achievement of satellite and space
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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:
(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,
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
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
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