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ICO Lloyd's satellite constellations
Globalstar | ICO | Iridium | Orbcomm | Teledesic

ideal active ICO constellation
ICO constellation design as modelled in SaVi

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Here's the official ICO website. See the ICO wikipedia page.

ICO (for Intermediate Circular Orbit, another term for Medium Earth Orbit - Middle Earth has already been taken by Tolkien) was originally begun by Inmarsat, back when it was a quasi-governmental organisation, as Project 21, then Inmarsat-P, before being spun off into a separate company and then filing for bankruptcy protection just like everyone else. ICO is slow off the mark, having successfully launched a single satellite that secures the frequency license while the rest are in limbo, incomplete somewhere on the ground. In April 2005 construction of a single geostationary ICO satellite was announced.

Satellites originally by Hughes Space, now owned by Boeing; using the 601 bus to build the ICO fleet. In September 2000 Hughes got the job of rebuilding the ICO fleet, as well as building three new satellites, more than replacing the one lost on the failed Zenit Sea Launch. Boeing may now be rebuilding the satellites.

Nera was one firm planning ICO handsets - a satellite standby time of over 120 hours, apparently... ICO was effectively bent-pipe transponders with digital signal processing at MEO.


The second launch of an ICO satellite was delayed until October 2000, and the satellite was finally launched on 19 June 2001. The Boeing Delta III they were planning on using has a good safety record, but this launch is apparently on an Atlas.

First launch

A Zenit-3 launch from Sea Launch on Sunday March 12 2000 failed. Here is coverage from the BBC, from Florida Today, and the ICO press release.

Oddly enough, the Sea Launch platform is named Odyssey...

ICO have also scheduled launches on Atlas and Proton.

Financial stuff

ICO filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Friday 27 August 1999. (Wired News)
'New ICO' emerged from bankruptcy protection on 17 May 2000 (press release).

ICOGF was delisted from NASDAQ, and 'New ICO' is part of the newly-formed Teledesic-ICO Global holding company, along with Teledesic. Merging the two companies was considered, but eventually not done; here's financial information on the proposed ICO/Teledesic merger (12 October 2000).

Investors include Craig McCaw (Eagle River) and Subhash Chandra (India's ASC Enterprises Ltd, or ASCEL) Blocked from taking a majority stake in a non-US company because that company had contracted for US-built satellites and launch services, ASCEL has taken a minority stake. (3 December 1999) ASCEL is also involved in Agrani.

The TRW patent claims for Odyssey were an issue until TRW took a stake in ICO.

Yahoo ICO news and information, including a financial chat area.
Raging Bull ICO discussion


Here's a photograph of the first ICO satellite and a view of the antenna assembly line, courtesy of Business Wire.

Technical summary from the Big LEO tables.
simulate ICO with SaVi.

Planned ICO coverage

Every circle in the cylindrical projection below is the coverage area, or footprint, of an ICO satellite flying overhead at the centre of the circle and looking down for signals. The earth is completely covered.

That's very few satellites; fewer than most of its competitors, thanks to high MEO orbits. 10 operational for full global coverage, in fact.

earth coverage by ICO
ICO's satellite footprints at a moment in time, generated by SaVi
The footprints move over the earth. There is no visible orbital seam.
cylindrical projection

Lloyd Wood (L.Wood@society.surrey.ac.uk)
this page last updated 26 May 2005