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Teledesic Lloyd's satellte constellations
Overview:
Globalstar | ICO | Iridium | Orbcomm | Teledesic

idealised original 840-active-satellite Calling constellation, 1994 idealised 288-active-satellite Boeing constellation, 1997
Teledesic constellation designs as modelled in SaVi

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On 1 October 2002, it was reported that Teledesic was officially suspending its satellite construction work. There was an official Teledesic press release, along with coverage from the Seattle Times, from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and from the Puget Sound Business Journal. In July 2003 Teledesic gave up its frequency licenses, as reported in the Seattle Times. According to Gary Sutton, the board decided its plan no longer made sense and eliminated itself.

Teledesic planned more active satellites than any other proposed satellite constellation - originally 840 active satellites in 1994, then 288 active satellites in 1997 after a Boeing-led redesign and before the merge with Motorola's Celestri. Teledesic later made a takeover of ICO. Then, in February 2002, Teledesic announced it was planning thirty MEO satellites; another comedown in numbers, another increase in altitude. Twelve with eighteen to follow? Surely the fact that ICO has ten active satellites and two on-orbit spares is just a coincidence; the fate of ICO is currently undetermined.

Until recently, the Teledesic multimedia gallery was still bravely showcasing the 288-active-satellite design, with a satellite rendering that has had the Boeing logo removed from it. Compare the timing of the MEO announcement and the milestone (millstone?) requirements set out in point 11 of this one-year-old FCC order and authorization (Acrobat pdf, mirror).

Teledesic has the backing of Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, Craig McCaw, founder of Nextel and NextLink, and of Saudi princes who are richer than Creosote. There were to be no public Teledesic stock offerings before 2001, now for several years; this is detailed in Teledesic's Frequently Asked Questions list, where the service launch date had slipped to 2004. Now 2005; I can remember when it was 2002. I know nothing about how you might invest your money in Teledesic, but I very much doubt you'd want to.

Here's the official Teledesic website. Teledesic.net was briefly offering IT services and webdesign by Teledesic employees.

Public details of a review of the new Motorola design were pending right up until Teledesic and Motorola parted ways.

Despite the holding company taking control of ICO after deciding against investing in Iridium, Teledesic isn't ICO. This Register article provides a good recent summary of the situation (September 2000) after ICO emerged from bankruptcy protection on 15 May 2000. Merging the two companies was considered, but eventually not done; here's financial information on the proposed ICO/Teledesic merger (12 October 2000).

Teledesic, Celestri efforts merged

As you'll see from a Teledesic press release of 21 May 1998, Teledesic merged with Motorola's Celestri. (Oddly, that press release is no longer available from Teledesic's selective history of their own press releases.) I have no other details. I have no idea what the resulting constellation would have been like, although apparently 'nothing will change' - but for whom? For neither, since they both stayed conceptual! (Wired News, 21 May 1998)
Success of Teledesic rides on Iridium, observed Kristi Coale. These days, it rides on ICO. Skybridge didn't plan a GEO component, although Celestri did; at the time both Celestri and Teledesic were planned for around 1400km altitude, which is still LEO. (Wired News, 22 May 1998)

You can stop the Teceledestric and the 'guess the number of satellites and the corresponding superheavy element' jokes now.

Since then Motorola moved engineers from Teledesic back to Iridium and systems engineering work on Teledesic was halted before they parted ways. (March 1999)

Launches

On Wednesday, 25 February 1998 Teledesic announced they had launched their first experimental satellite from a Pegasus rocket. Here's a report from ZDNet. It wasn't part of the final constellation, being of a different design and at a different altitude; this is not equivalent to the first Iridium launch, or to the first successful ICO launch.

Teledesic were hoping to line up their first satellite launches in 1997 - how time flies.

Boeing buys into Teledesic

Before Motorola was prime contractor, Boeing was prime contractor. In 2000, Hughes was rebuilding the New ICO satellites now owned by Teledesic, and Boeing had just bought Hughes' space division, making Boeing responsible for McCaw's plans again. Funny old world.

Boeing buys into Teledesic (press release). Unsurprising, since they're both Seattle-based; apparently there were two years of negotiation. BusinessWire story with photos

Boeing reportedly decreed a change in the constellation design for fewer satellites, with 36 additional spares (Sunday Times, 4 May 1997)
There are 840 active satellites in the original plan, but only 288 active satellites in the now-confirmed new, slimmer plan. (Edupage, 20 February 1997)

There are still animations and other Teledesic-related search results. Hughes was apparently awarded the communications payload contract by Boeing.

General information

Project partners

The Teledesic team

Human-interest stories are supposed to be of more interest to most humans, but I don't think that applies to old human-interest stories, especially since Teledesic had three rounds of layoffs (2000, early 2001 and October 2002). I'm not aware of any recent interviews.

Steve Hooper, co-CEO
Network World interview (October 1998)

Russell Daggatt, president and then-CEO
Upside interview (November 1996)
'Satellites won't be falling out of the sky at the rate of 10 percent a year'. He then goes on to say that they'll fail at the rate of 3 percent a year. Big improvement.

Red Herring interview (December 1995)
'If a lot of people don't think you're crazy, you are probably not trying hard enough'. (Red Herring, March 1996)
Russ speaks on electronic freedom at the Telecom Forum and gets a nice introductory biography. (Perkins Coie Resource Center, 7 August 1996)

Craig McCaw, founder and chairman
A long and detailed article in Fortune, 27 May 1996 (now available inside the Northern Light database), with some interesting information, such as the fact that they hadn't written any software yet. Because they hadn't decided on the hardware. Because at the early stage when the interview took place they were still working on getting much of the funding.
Teledesic is not an application. I'm told Microsoft is not involved in coding for it.
The 'few people would be stupid enough to compete with us' final paragraph seems, in hindsight, optimistic.
Here's the text of a speech given in March 2002, mentioning Teledesic and terrestrial frequency reuse.

Hans-Werner Braun, chief network architect
gave a talk on the networking aspects of Teledesic. (North American Network Operators' Group Meeting, June 1997)
Hans is also involved in the NLANR caching effort.
He's been labelled Unsung Hero of the Net #4, although his praises are sung in RFC 1251.

Networking issues

If you're wondering whether Teledesic is better for your TCP/IP applications than its competitors, please take a look at this overview of TCP/IP issues. And then take a look at what has actually been launched.

Planned Teledesic coverage

Here's are coverage maps for the original 1994 Teledesic constellation, with 840 active satellites, and the 1997 Boeing redesign, with 288 active satellites. Every circle in the cylindrical projection below is the coverage area, or footprint, of a Teledesic satellite flying overhead at the centre of the circle and looking down for signals. There's a 2-degree hole in coverage at each pole in the original design.

earth coverage by 840-active-satellite design earth coverage by 288-active-satellite design
Teledesic's satellite footprints at a moment in time, generated by SaVi
The footprints and the seam move over the earth
cylindrical projection

Maps showing network topology of an optimised 288-satellite Boeing design are also available.

Teledesic is the kind of thing that James Bond used to have to stop.

- Matt Bacon, former member of the ICO Global Balloon Challenge webteam.


Lloyd Wood (L.Wood@surrey.ac.uk)
this page last updated 19 December 2004