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Iridium, the only Mobile Satellite Service (MSS) company offering coverage over the entire globe, has announced new funding through a merger with publicly traded GHL Acquisition Corp., a venture formed by New York-based investment banking firm Greenhill & Co. Iridium, formed by Motorola and later spun off, has been looking for funding to launch the company’s upgraded network of 66 satellites. The newly merged company will go public on Sept. 29.

The merger is expected to bring more than $200 million in capital to Iridium, enabling the company to pay down debt and develop its new constellation of satellites for launch in 2014. Iridium is working with its two prime contractor candidates, Lockheed Martin and Thales Alenia Space, to refine design proposals with final selection planned toward the end of the year.

The Iridium constellation requires 66 active satellites in low Earth orbit at a height of approximately 485 mi (781 km) and inclination of 86.4°. Satellites communicate with neighboring satellites via Ka band intersatellite links. Each satellite can have four intersatellite links: two to neighbors fore and aft in the same orbital plane, and two to satellites in neighboring planes to either side.

Iridium NEXT will also use 66 cross-linked satellites, similar to the current system. There will be seamless backward compatibility to the current satellite phones with new MSS offerings.

Although Iridium had assets estimated at $6 billion the company sold Iridium for $25 million, in 2000, to a group led by Dan Colussy, a former president of Pan American World Airways and aerospace company UNC Inc. Since relaunching its network in 2001, the company has built its customer base to 347,000, with the war in Iraq helping the company’s bottom line.

Iridium’s biggest competitor in handheld satellite phone service is Globalstar. Their network covers most of the world’s landmass using 44 active satellites. Globalstar claims some 315,000 subscribers (as of June 2008). Satellites fly in an inclined orbit of 52 degrees; so polar regions cannot be covered.

Their service launched in 1999, but recently their voice circuits have begun to fail. Now the satphone company is promoting their data-only SPOT Satellite Messenger service which uses a different (non-voice) frequency.

In July 2009, Globalstar announced that it has received complete financing for its second-generation satellite constellation, with launches to start in 2010. Globalstar signed an agreement with Hughes for it’s next generation satellites.

Until the new second-generation Globalstar satellite constellation is operational, Globalstar is offering its Optimum Satellite Availability T-tool (OSAT) on its Internet site, which subscribers may use to predict when one or more unaffected satellites will be overhead so they can make a voice call.

Last year, the FCC modified Globalstar’s license to permit use of WiMAX in its Ancillary Terrestrial Component (ATC) for services in the United States. Its spectrum lessee, Open Range Communications, will commence deployment of a broadband service with a $267 million loan commitment from the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Utilities Program. Outside the WiMAX coverage area, customers use Globalstar satellite service in the Open Range model.

Meanwhile, Harris Corporation today announced their 18-meter antenna reflector was successfully deployed on orbit on July 12, onboard the geosynchronous TerreStar communications satellite. On orbit tests have confirmed that the reflector is fully deployed in its intended position.

With an antenna almost 60 feet across, and supporting 500 dynamically-configurable spot beams, TerreStar-1 will surpass the signal sensitivity and spot beam generation capability of all commercial satellites currently in orbit.

Space Systems/Loral controllers sent the commands to unfurl the reflector this July. The Harris antenna reflector makes it possible for the TerreStar-1 satellite to focus the 2 GHz S-band signals on the United States and Canada in order to provide these Mobile Satellite Services (MSS).

AT&T Mobility plans service that utilizes both Terrestar’s satellite and AT&T’s terrestrial cellular service by the end of this year. The first handset, which will use separate cellular and satellite chips, will cost about US$700 without a carrier subsidy. It will provide voice service as well as data at approximately 64K bits per second. TerreStar’s major investors are Harbinger Capital Partners and satellite TV company EchoStar.

TerreStar’s network will operate in two 10-Mhz blocks of contiguous MSS spectrum in the 2 GHz band throughout the United States and Canada – with a spectrum footprint that covers a population of nearly 330 million.

Next up: MSV will deploy two geostationary satellites, each with a 22 meter antennas using the L-band (1.6 GHz), beginning in the first quarter of 2010 (above). Motorola is supporting 700 MHz for public safety broadband with ancillary satellite access though SkyTerra. A dual mode phone from Motorola will provide both broadband satellite and 700 MHz terrestrial devices for the public safety community.

In other news, NASA is running out of plutonium needed to power deep space probes, worrying planetary scientists who say the U. S. urgently needs to restart production of plutonium-238, reports NPR.

Of course that would have nothing to do with energy demanding space-based radar planned by military contractors. NASA is a civilian agency. Funded by taxpayers.

Same deal with NASA’s moon rockets.

Still, advances in thin film solar cells such as amorphous silicon, copper-indium-selenide(CIS), and copper-indium-gallium-selenide (CIGS) promise significant power improvements. In addition, these non-crystalline technologies are radhard. Of course, deep space probes, without much solar energy to tap, need something like plutonium-238 to supply power.

NASA’s Vision for Space Exploration, championed by Star Wars advocate Michael Griffin, would return to the moon using massive rockets built by Lockheed and Boeing.

Meanwhile, California-based Space-X has conducted its second successful rocket launch, putting an Earth-observing satellite into orbit for Malaysia. The Falcon 9 Heavy would be capable of lifting over 28,000 kg to Low Earth Orbit (LEO), and over 12,000 kg to Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO), competing with the taxpayer subsidized commercial launchers like the EELV.

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