02/27/98- Updated 09:53 AM ET
Teledisc moves toward space-based Net
Teledesic - the Internet-in-space company backed by Bill Gates and
Craig McCaw - put its first test satellite into orbit late Wednesday.
The launch was kept secret until Thursday.
The satellite, dubbed the T1, marks the first successful orbit of a
commercial Ka-band low-earth orbit (LEO) satellite. LEOs are expected
to be at the heart of a number of next-generation satellite
communications systems, analysts say.
"So far, it's normal operations" for the satellite, says Barron
Beneski of Orbital Sciences, which launched the T1.
Teledesic has had its doubters since the audacious $9 billion project
was unveiled in 1994. While the project is still far from reality, the
test satellite is the first tangible sign of life. It also gives
Teledesic a step on Motorola, which is building a similar system
The T1 was put in orbit by a Pegasus rocket, which is launched from
underneath an airborne L-1011 jet.
The test satellite is not like those that will be part of the
Teledesic system, but it will allow Teledesic to run trials of its
plans. "It's good for our team to be actively working with real
hardware," says Russell Daggatt, Teledesic's president. "It's nice to
be dealing with something other than equations on paper."
Teledesic's LEO whips around the Earth about 350 miles up, compared
with 25,000 miles up for geostationary satellites such as those used
for DirecTv. Because LEOs fly so low, there is little delay relaying
communications - a necessity if satellites are to handle
Teledesic, which has been closely watched because of the involvement
of cellular pioneer McCaw and Microsoft CEO Gates, is planning to
build a constellation of 288 LEOs. They will serve as a space-based,
high-bandwidth Internet. Any computer worldwide armed with a special
antenna could connect to the system.
Teledesic and Celestri could carry video or other data services to
villages in China or U.S. city dwellers who can't get good Internet
connections via phone or cable lines.
Teledesic probably will send more test satellites before putting up
the first production models in mid-2001. The system is to be up and
running by late 2002.
By Kevin Maney, USA TODAY