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February 07, 2013

Globalstar Completes Second-Generation Constellation

By Doug Mohney, Contributing Editor

Globalstar (News - Alert) now has six new satellites in orbit, filling out its second-generation constellation of 24 satellites. Now, all it has to do is win back old customers and find new ones.

The six Globalstar satellites were launched onboard a Russian Soyuz rocket at 11:04 AM February 6, 2013 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Launch provider Arianespace (News - Alert) confirmed that the Fregat upper stage accurately put the six second-generation satellites into their targeted low earth orbits of around 920 kilometers, Globalstar has confirmed all six satellites were successfully contacted following separation from the upper stage and has begun initial in-orbit testing. All six spacecraft are confirmed operating as normal at this time.

With 24 new satellites in orbit, Globastar now has a completely new network replacing its defective first- generation  satellites. Some of the company's initial 24 satellites launched between 1999 and 2001 suffered an "anomaly" on the communications antenna S-band amplifiers, resulting in degraded performance. The problem affected both two-way voice and data service, causing a delay in establishing calls and limiting the duration of calls as satellites affected with the problem passed overhead.

As a stop-gap measure, Globalstar launched eight spare satellites for its existing constellation to reduce coverage gaps while it built and launched its second-generation satellites. The first block of six second generation satellites were launched in October 2010, with two more sets launched in 2011. The 2007 first-generation satellites are being combine with the new second-generation satellites to make up the full second-generation network.

The final six satellites are expected to be placed into commercial service by the summer, All of the new satellites are designed to last for 15 years, twice the lifespan of Globalstar's first-generation hardware. 

Globalstar's second-generation satellite constellation is designed to support its full line of voice, duplex and simplex data products and services, including its SPOT-branded "press for emergency" GPS message consumer products.

With the pending restoration of its satellite network to full capacity, the company will be able to offer reliable, high-quality voice service anywhere in the world. Globalstar uses a combination of Qualcomm (News - Alert) codecs, 8 Kbps of bandwidth, and less than 60 milliseconds of latency to deliver "landline" quality voice to a handset roughly the size of a DECT (News - Alert) cordless phone, sans base station. Company officials have discussed more aggressively distributing its satellite phones through retail channels as off-the-shelf items.

However, Globalstar also needs to win back customers put off by problems with its first-generation network. One reseller I spoke with at IT EXPO East 2013 in Miami said that they had stopped carrying Globalstar products due to complaints by customers who had purchased the service and found it didn't work as advertised when the first-generation satellites started having problems.

Edited by Amanda Ciccatelli

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