Iridium, the worldwide mobile communications operator, is experiencing worsening financial problems. Even with 74 operational satellites in orbit, the Motorola-led company will fail to meet its new target of 27,000 subscribers by the end of May and is heading towards defaulting on $800 million in outstanding loans. Investors had given Motorola until 31 May to gain at least 17,000 more customers than the 10,000 it had by the end of April.

The major problem has been a shortage of cellular telephones and their high cost. The company was boosted last month when it was awarded a $219 million contract to supply services to the US Department of Defense. Some industry observers believe that the company's future may be as a quasi-military service provider.

Iridium's difficulties are not preventing other service providers from pressing on with their plans to operate competing systems. The Loral-led Globalstar, which has launched almost half the number of spacecraft to meet its initial operating requirements of 48 satellites, aims to be operational in September. Three more Soyuz launches of Globalstar satellites are planned by the Starsem organisation this year.

Inmarsat affiliate ICO plans to launch the first of its 12-satellite fleet aboard an ILS International Launch Services Russian Proton booster in July.

Boeing, meanwhile, is considering acquiring a controlling stake in the $1.5 billion Ellipso mobile satellite communications system. Boeing has already invested $225 million for a 10% stake in the project, which will involve 17 satellites, the first of which is to be launched in 2001. Boeing has started building the first seven spacecraft and will also launch them, probably on Delta boosters.

Source: Flight International