Monday, May 26, 2008

Iridium--spacefaring ghost town.

The Iridium Satellite communication system provides voice telephone capability everywhere on earth, as well as very slow internet access. But it's really expensive.

They have 66 satellites in low earth orbit to accomplish this.

Here's the really kewl thing. The system cost over 6 Billion Dollars to put in place. The service became available on November 1, 1998 (5 days before my 24th birthday). Al Gore made the first phone call on it. And then due to mismanagement and/or a lack of subscribers, they went into chapter 11 bankruptcy on August 13, 1999, about 9 months later.

And the system was more or less *shut down*.

There's something amazingly kewl and creepy about that. Do you sense that? It has the sense of a creepy old ghost town, out of some sci fi novel, with the added element that the buildings and everything are still in top notch condition--everyone has left--no one lives there, but everything still gleams, and there's no dust (It's nearly vacuum!) and with the push of a few buttons, everything can come back on line. 6 Billion Dollars plus of equipment all silently circling the earth--able and willing to connect telephone users anywhere on the surface, but doing ... *nothing*.

Kind of creepy and kewl.

And then some amazingly savvy group of investors bought the whole thing for 25 Million Dollars. Wow. That's getting the equipment for 1/240th of the cost--all almost brand new.

And they started it up again! That's yotta kewl. The ghost town suddenly comes back alive, miraculously, in 2001, more than 16 months after it became a ghost town. 16 months of creepy, clean, waiting-ish silence finally over.

If you're planning to travel somewhere very out of the way where there's no phone service, you can have voice phone service for a mere ~$1.50 a minute (outgoing) or $3.00+ a minute (incoming). That's only ... $90 to $180+ per hour. (not counting the cost of the equipment. Steep for the average individual user, but pretty affordable for lots of organizations.

An interesting side note: The 66 Iridium satellites, which costs $5 million each to build, and something like $35 million each to launch, all have processors running at 200 megahertz, which is about 1/8th the speed of the processor in the practically free laptop upon which I'm writing. But that's what was available back in 97-98.

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