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Iridium Completes Constellation Replacement (flyingmag.com)
81 points by prostoalex 34 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 45 comments



There's an excellent and fascinating book that describes, among many other things, how the satellites were saved from being "de-orbited" (crashed) about 20 years ago. It's called Eccentric Orbits.

https://www.amazon.com/Eccentric-Orbits-Iridium-John-Bloom/d...


Yeah, I was at Motorola when they were supposed to be deorbited. I knew a guy that worked in the lab when they went through the lab to start to destroy all the equipment as part of the liquidation process. He saved one of the iconic brick handsets for me. No sim card. Just Accelerated Life Test Unit 4. It's been a proud possession of mine for years.


Please make sure it ends up in a museum eventually.


I believe the Computer History Museum already has one.


Here's an example of how to misplaces satellites were used to test General Relativity:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aKwJayXTZUs


Eccentric Orbits was one of my favorite reads from last year.

This article also gives a pretty decent tl;dr:

https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/d34bmk/iridium-ne...


Anyone know a good source of info on the Iridium Certus service they are supposed to start offering with this new constellation? Based on the marketing material I could find it seems like the upstream is only ~350 Kbps even though there are plans to offer 1.4 Mbps downstream service eventually. Hard to understand why someone would pay for that over the other services out there where the upstream bandwidth scales with the downstream.


Hard to understand why someone would pay for that over the other services out there where the upstream bandwidth scales with the downstream.

Shipping, airplanes, and people/companies otherwise in the middle of nowhere (eg remote mines).


Presumably people pay for this when nobody else can provide the coverage they need?


Presumably people pay for this when nobody else can provide the coverage they need?

We have a winner!

Speaking as someone who has to regularly do development work from a solar+Jeep-battery-powered satellite internet connection, the more companies that put birds in the air, the better it is for me.

Unfortunately, since startup costs as so high, what little increased competition there is isn't really dropping the price/megabyte ratio.

Save me, Elon Musk!


What sort of work are you in?


"Has to?" What do you do, and why do you have no other options?


I'm guessing based on context that "development work" means assistance work in developing countries, not software development :)


I'm guessing based on context that "development work" means assistance work in developing countries, not software development :)

It's actually web development, deployed on fogs (my name for localized temporary clouds) in very poor, very rural communities in the United States.

It's the sorts of places where roads are primitive, electricity and clean water are scarce, and internet is a luxury. These settlements are often cut off from the outside world for weeks or months each year due to seasonal (deep snow), or temporary (flash floods) events.

"Landline" telephone service, when it exists, is usually via HF radio. If you buy land there, the county makes you sign a document acknowledging that no water, sewer, or medical services are available, and police may take days to get to you. The kinds of places where even FedEx and UPS won't guarantee overnight delivery at any price.

The place where I was last week was seven miles from the fringes of the nearest cell service. But it had pretty fast wifi, thanks to a fixed-microwave link on a single pole stuck 40 feet into the air. Every time a breeze came along, the pole would sway, the dish at the top would go out of alignment, and the connection would drop.

This is why every time I see someone on HN spout about how "You always get an internet connection by hacking your neighbor's wifi connection" I shake my head.

But it's nice to get out of the office every once in a while.


I spent some time in Eagle Alaska and it was much like this. The nearest cell tower was 4 hours away. The only internet access was via satellite, and it was extremely slow, expensive, and latent. The only feasible way to get any work done was by mosh-ing into my DO droplet. You start to really miss music and podcasts. Such an adventure tho, would do it again in a heartbeat.


I want to hear more! Why are you doing this? Is this a side effect of your job or are you helping these communities?

I’d be interested in doing this kind of work, either domestically or internationally.


Why are you doing this?

Money. SV won't hire anyone my age... erm... with my level of experience. And the benefits are ridiculously good.

Is this a side effect of your job or are you helping these communities?

The company helps these communities. I just push buttons so the people who really do the good work can do that good work.

I’d be interested in doing this kind of work, either domestically or internationally.

There's a stereotype on HN that all companies exist to make money and that's all. It's simply not true. There are plenty of companies out there that exist to make lives better for other people. My advice is to find a commercial venture that does good things, and has been around for at least a decade. Avoid government and non-profit do-gooder organizations that may get de-funded on a whim.

I'm not one of those "I'm going to change the world!" kind of people. If the money wasn't there, I wouldn't be there. But it's nice to overhear the stories of what's being done and how grateful people are to not be forgotten. It's only very rarely that I'm asked to pitch in on the front line, which I mostly find stressful because I'm not good with people. But there are rewarding scenes that stick in the memory and are not easily forgotten.


> There are plenty of companies out there that exist to make lives better for other people. My advice is to find a commercial venture that does good things, and has been around for at least a decade

If you aren't willing to name the company you work for, do you have other companies you've run into like this that you would recommend people look at?


Do you have a blog? Would love to hear war stories :)


Thanks for the info!


Yachts to download weather data ‘grib files’, and email. Costs over a dollar per mb.


Perhaps but you can do the same with BGAN, iDirect, or Kymeta Kyway with better bandwidth this just seems like it has no competitive advantage over competitors except perhaps coverage at the poles.


For me, the size of an Iridium terminal is paramount - I can fit one in my pocket where a typical BGAN terminal needs a backpack. As I understand it, Iridium terminals are much more power efficient as their low-earth satellites are orders of magnitudes closer.


Latency could be an advantage. The New iridium terminals for the higher speed data are larger than BGAN though, at least the couple that I've seen specs on.


North Pole coverage was the reason.


Latency.


I'd be totally fine with this for m2m. Also, iridium covers polar areas, not an option from GEO, and there aren't (any?) other commercial constellation services with south-polar coverage. Admittedly a small market.


> Hard to understand why someone would pay for that

Friend was telling me about the cost of internet on a superyacht...holy shiiaatt.


James Hamilton has blogged on connectivity costs for MV Dirona [1][2][3] on a few occasions, and ISTR his provider KVH is $15000/mo for 150GB allotment at 'Unlimited' speeds (approximately 10Mbps down and 3Mbps up) and $9499/mo for all you can eat at 4Mbps down / 1Mbps up.

[1] https://mvdirona.com/2015/08/communications-at-sea/ [2] https://mvdirona.com/2018/04/control-systems-on-dirona/ [3] https://mvdirona.com/2018/03/kvh-v7-hts-twice-the-speed-more...


But wait, back up a second to the cost of the superyacht itself, then the internet costs are piddling in that frame of reference. And I suspect that the cost of the superyacht is piddling for the kind of person who buys one.

The 0.1% really do live in a different world.


You can buy pretty decent yacht for 50-100k to live in for the rest of your life.

Doing web dev over satellite would cost same as on superyacht.


It’s a shame Iridium flares are quickly becoming a thing of the past. If you’ve never seen one, it’s about time!


Well if the entire constellation is replaced, that's too late for that isn't it ?


Replacements are in orbit but originals haven’t been all deorbited yet.


There are still other interesting things to see, Equisat has LED flashers: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experime...


I'm curious how a rocket delivers multiple satellites spaced around a single orbit. Anyone know of something for laypeople that describes the process? I think it's really cool.


I don't have a good article on this but I'd assume the rocket delivers the satellites to an orbit slightly below the target one. The satellites can then move to the final orbit on their own (small transfers take much less energy than one might guess). Since lower orbits are faster than higher ones spacing on the final orbit can be controlled by the timing of the final transfer.


You've given basically the right answer for changing phase within the same orbit, i.e., if you start with multiple satellites near each other on the same circular path, and you want to space them out evenly along that path. However, the Iridium Next satellites have enough fuel to change ('migrate') to the next orbital plane over. They save fuel by using some tricks involving the non-uniform nature of the Earth's gravitational field, which only works because the migration can be done slowly.

There are 6 planes in the constellation and the satellites were delivered 10-at-a-time on 7 launches, plus 5 satellites on an 8th rideshare launch. There are 11 operational satellites in each plane (plus 9 spares distributed over the planes), and it's easy to see that migration is necessary to fill out all 11 slots in all 6 planes given those launches.

More info:

http://www.rod.sladen.org.uk/iridium.htm


I recommend picking up Kerbal Space Program on a slow weekend some time. Turns these kinds of questions into fun game play experiences.


Not surprisingly, for a long time (and to some extent even today) it is often highly classified. That is because the original use was for nuclear weapons which carried more than one warhead and could hit multiple targets (or one target really hard).

That said, these days its somewhat standardized (see this brochure :https://www.moog.com/content/dam/moog/literature/Space_Defen...) Basically a kinetic mechanism, sometimes a spring, sometimes just gas (aka compressed air), is used to give each satellite a 'kick' when it is released. Once the satellite is unfolded and oriented it can use an on board thruster to move itself to the proper orbit.


Low latency connectivity in the middle of the ocean?


Wow, that was like the first article in years which managed to load ads through uBlock origin while giving my CPU a nice increase in load. Does anyone know how they do that?


I've seen sites use websockets


Firefox plus NoScript (with JavaScript off by default) means I had absolutely no CPU problem reading that article. It's my default browsing configuration.


Try enabling additional lists in the settings and grabbing uBlock Origin Extra if you're on Chrome. I didn't run into any ads.




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