Iridium launches five satellites to boost global constellation |

Iridium launches five satellites to boost global constellation

Associated Press

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AP) — A rocket carrying five Iridium communications satellites streaked into space Monday.

“It just rocked out of here,” said Master Sgt. Ty Foster, a spokesman for the 30th Space Wing.

The 9:44 a.m. launch came after three days of delays due to mechanical problems and high winds.

Within 85 minutes of liftoff, all five satellites successfully separated from the Boeing Delta II rocket.

“They’re all in good shape,” said Glen Golightly, a Boeing Co. spokesman.

The satellites join in low-Earth orbit 73 other Iridium Satellite LLC spacecraft, which form the backbone of the company’s global mobile phone service.

The launch marks the first time satellites have been added to the Iridium constellation since two spares were sent into orbit in late 1998. Motorola and other investors spent $5 billion building the Iridium LLC network only to cut off commercial service two years ago as it drowned in debt.

The company originally sought to destroy its satellites by having them burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Then, Iridium Satellite LLC paid just $25 million for the assets of the bankrupt company in December 2000. Iridium Satellite LLC relaunched operations in April 2001, relying heavily on a $72 million contract with the Department of Defense.

The new satellites, all spares, were planned and paid for by Iridium LLC and were part of the assets transferred to the new company. Two more spares are scheduled for launch in June.

Rival company Globalstar L.P. spent more than $4 billion to develop its own system of 48 satellites that allow subscribers to make and receive calls from anywhere on the planet. That company intends to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, said spokesman Mac Jeffery.

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