BAIKONUR COSMODROME, Kazakhstan — Six Globalstar second-generation mobile communications satellites were successfully placed into orbit Oct. 20 aboard a four-stage Soyuz rocket, a launch that Globalstar hopes will gradually return its business to full operational status after more than three years of service and revenue declines.
Globalstar officials confirmed that the 651-kilogram satellites were healthy in their planned parking orbit after the launch and had sent signals to a ground station in South Korea.
Following a demand of its insurance underwriters, the Milpitas, Calif.-based company will spend the next four or five months testing the satellites to be sure the new design functions according to specification.
One of the newly launched satellites will be integrated into Globalstar’s existing constellation by early December, with two more to be placed into operation by January. The three others will enter service by February.
Globalstar has ordered 24 satellites — plus the equivalent of six spares — from manufacturer Thales Alenia Space of France and Italy, with key financing backed by France’s Coface export-credit agency. The second launch of six satellites is scheduled for February or March, with the two remaining launches — all aboard Russian-built Soyuz rockets operated out of Baikonur — scheduled to occur by June.
Anthony J. Navarra, president of global operations for Globalstar, said new satellites, beginning with those launched Oct. 20, will be inserted into positions at which they can have the most impact in terms of returning two-way telephone service to Globalstar customers.
Following degradation of Globalstar’s original 48-satellite constellation that began in early 2007 and has been blamed on radiation levels, Globalstar’s telephone and two-way data service has been in a downward spiral. The company has redoubled its efforts to provide what it calls “simplex” or one-way data messaging. It also has provided customers with an Internet program to guide users as to when a call from a Globalstar phone is most likely to be processed.
“The fact is that right now we have only eight satellites that provide full functionality in terms of the two-way service,” Navarra said in an Oct. 19 interview. “So you get a fairly substantial increase in service with every couple of satellites you add. But the fact is that it is the summer of 2011 when you should see full service restoration.”
Globalstar has an option to order 24 additional satellites from Thales Alenia, at a fixed price of about $15 million per satellite, that expires in June 2012. Navarra said the company has every intention of exercising the option, although he noted that the only real difference between a constellation of 32 satellites and one of 48 satellites is network capacity, not network quality.
Under the terms of its bank- and Coface-backed financing, Globalstar must meet revenue targets before getting access to the remaining loans available to it.
Most of Globalstar’s current satellites were launched in 1999 and 2000 with in-orbit service lives estimated at seven years. But eight first-generation spacecraft were not launched before 2007. It is these satellites, plus the 24 to be launched by mid-2011, that Globalstar refers to as its 32-satellite constellation. Navarra said the company believes the eight recently launched first-generation satellites have between four and five years of full service ahead of them before they, too, fall victim to the radiation-caused degradation that has crippled the constellation.
The second-generation satellites have reinforced radiation protection, more backup functions and an estimated 15-year service life — double that of the first generation.
The commercial Soyuz rocket is operated by Starsem, a French-Russian joint venture in which Europe’s Arianespace launch consortium is a shareholder. Evry, France-based Arianespace expects to begin operating Soyuz on its own, from Europe’s Guiana Space Center spaceport in French Guiana, in April 2011.
But Starsem-organized Soyuz launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome will continue at least until 2012, according to Starsem and Arianespace officials.