(K. Brent Tomer),
Eccentric Orbits: The Iridium Story. By John Bloom. Grove Atlantic; 537 pages; $27.50.
IRIDIUM was among the most ambitious projects in the history of technology. Yet it soon led to one of the world’s biggest bankruptcies. Today, 17 years on, Iridium is a remarkable comeback story: a global communications tool of last resort for soldiers, sailors and others who happen to find themselves in the nine-tenths of the world that does not have terrestrial mobile-phone reception and probably never will. The company has nearly 800,000 paying customers who generate annual revenues of more than $400m.
In the early 1990s global satellite-phone systems had investors enthralled. No fewer than ten different constellations of these systems were supposed to be built, each costing billions of dollars. If all had been launched as planned, the skies would now be teeming with what are essentially flying wireless base stations.
The most ambitious of them all, technically, was Iridium. Instead of plastering the Earth with millions of antennae, the idea went, why not put them on a constellation of satellites that could cover the…Continue reading