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How the largest man-made constellation in the heavens was built by dreamers in the Arizona desert, targeted for destruction by Motorola, and saved by a single Palm Beach retiree who battled the Pentagon, thirty banks, Congress, the White House, and a mysterious Arab prince to rescue the only phone that links every inch of the planet
The Iridium Story
Atlantic Monthly Press
978-0-8021-2168-4 • $27.50 • Cloth • June 2016
In the early 1990s, Motorola, the legendary American company, made a huge gamble on a revolutionary satellite telephone system called Iridium. Light-years ahead of anything previously put into space, and built on technology developed for Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars,” Iridium’s constellation of sixty-six satellites in six evenly spaced orbital planes meant that at least one satellite was always overhead, and you could call Tibet from Fiji without a delay and without your call ever touching a wire.
Iridium was a mind-boggling technical accomplishment, surely the future of communication. The only problem was that Iridium was also a commercial disaster. Only months after launching service, it was $11 billion in debt, burning through $100 million a month and bringing in almost no revenue. Bankruptcy was inevitablethe largest to that point in American history. It looked like Iridium would go down as just a “science experiment.”
That is, until Dan Colussy got a wild idea. Colussy, a former CEO of Pan Am now retired and working on his golf game, heard about Motorola’s plans to
“de-orbit” the system and decided he would buy Iridium and somehow turn around one of the biggest blunders in the history of business.
Eccentric Orbits masterfully traces the birth of Iridium and Colussy’s tireless efforts to stop it from being destroyed, from meetings with his motley investor group, to the Clinton White House, to the Pentagon, to the hunt for customers in special ops, shipping, aviation, mining, search and rescueanyone who would need a durable phone at the end of Earth. Impeccably researched and wonderfully told, Eccentric Orbits is a rollicking, unforgettable tale of technological achievement, business failure, the military-industrial complex, and one of the greatest deals of all time.