BAIKONUR COSMODROME, Kazakhstan
Globalstar Inc. Chief Executive Jay Monroe said June 1 that the satellite-telephone company’s subscribers should begin seeing a “noticeable” improvement in their service by fall
following the entry into operation of eight fresh spacecraft.
Four of these first-generation Globalstar satellites were successfully placed into orbit May 30 by
a Soyuz launch vehicle operated at the Russian-run spaceport here by the French-Russian Starsem S.A. joint venture.
The satellites were placed into a 920-kilometer orbit that
will be raised in altitude over the next six weeks to join the 40-satellite Globalstar constellation, which
1,414 kilometers in altitude. Milpitas, Calif.-based Globalstar has said these satellites, and the four more scheduled for launch in late July, also aboard a Soyuz vehicle, will be inserted at carefully selected spots to plug holes in the current constellation’s coverage.
The four remaining satellites were delayed at their integration facility outside Rome when one of them required extra work. They
now are scheduled to be shipped from the ThalesAlenia Space integration facility to the spaceport here
June 18, with a launch scheduled for July 29.
In a June 1 interview, Monroe said this final group of first-generation satellites should be in service by fall
, at which point Globalstar subscribers will see a noticeable improvement in call availability – meaning a decrease in the number of minutes per day that the current constellation is unavailable.
The performance of Globalstar’s existing 40 satellites is eroding due to a degradation of the satellites’ S-band payload, which permits two-way communications links.
Globalstar has estimated that the performance of these satellites, launched in 1999 and 2000, will continue to decline and may reach a critical point in late 2008.
To retain subscribers, Globalstar has cut prices. In addition, it is tinkering with the satellites’ gateway Earth stations to improve performance. Monroe said one new feature is a Web site Globalstar subscribers can use to determine when service outages will occur and to arrange their calling schedules accordingly.
“Our average user is calling with our service for two or three minutes per day,” Monroe said. “Using this Web site, a registered Globalstar subscriber can determine, for any given area in our coverage, when the coverage gaps are going to be. For most of these users, there is not much difference between making the call at
2:45 and having to wait an additional few minutes for availability.”
has 48 second-generation satellites on order for delivery starting in mid-2009 but has not yet contracted for their launch. Globalstar is now trying to accelerate the satellites’ construction at ThalesAlenia Space of Cannes, France.
Monroe said the company has issued bid requests to launch-service suppliers and is in discussions with “three or four” prospective suppliers. He declined to name them, but said they vary in their offers, with some proposing a few launches carrying more satellites on each vehicle, while others propose using more rockets carrying fewer satellites each.
Monroe declined to speculate on when a launch contract might be signed, but he said it was unlikely to be before this summer. He also declined to say how many second-generation satellites would be needed to return two-way communications services to acceptable levels.
Alenia Space is currently scheduled to begin delivering Globalstar’s second-generation satellites in mid-2009. Monroe said that once production reaches full throttle, ThalesAlenia will be producing a satellite every two weeks, on average.
negotiating leverage for the early second-generation satellite launches is likely to be reduced because the company is under severe pressure to stop the service-quality erosion and retain subscribers, whose monthly payments Globalstar hopes will finance most of the $1.2 billion in costs of the second-generation system.
Monroe disputed that assessment, saying the prospect of a 48-satellite launch order
already has given the company sufficient negotiating strength. Globalstar has estimated that it will need $329 million to finance the launch of its second-generation satellites, each of which is expected to weigh 700 kilograms.
Monroe said in a May 30 statement that the company has invested about $120 million to refurbish and launch the final eight satellites of the first-generation constellation.