Alcatel Espace has applied to the US Federal Communications Commission to launch and operate a 64-satellite, low-Earth orbit (LEO) constellation to provide high-speed, broadband, interactive services to business and private users worldwide, at a data rate of up to 60 million bits/s.

The $3.5 billion system, called the SkyBridge - formerly known as the Sativod - will be a "-solution to the bandwidth shortage that has been clogging the Internet and preventing the development of true multimedia services", says Pasquale Sourisse, director of strategy for Alcatel Espace.

It will also provide services for telecommuting, videoconferencing and entertainment. The Skybridge could begin services in 2002 and, by 2006, will have 15 million customers, claims Sourisse.

The Ku-band system will be able to share spectrum with existing geostationary orbiting (GEO) satellites, without causing interference, says Alcatel.

The system will shut off transmissions when passing through the area where GEO satellites are transmitting - without affecting users, as telecommunications traffic will be transferred to another SkyBridge satellite.

Alcatel is negotiating with industry partners, including telecommunications operators, and service providers and manufacturers.

The SkyBridge is one of several planned LEO satellite constellations, including the Globalstar, ICO, Iridium and Odyssey mobile-communications satellite systems, and the $9 billion 840-satellite constellation for US mobile- telecommunications company Teledesic. Up to 1,500 new satellites could be in orbit by 2005. Many of these will use the new Ka-band spectrum.

Teledesic, supported by cellphone entrepreneur Craig McCaw and Microsoft chief Bill Gates, has reduced its proposed number of satellites from 924, and plans an initial system of 288 craft by 2002. Boeing has proposed joining the venture to provide launchers and systems integration.

Source: Flight International