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When Iridium Satellites Collide

Remember Iridium [1], the satellite phone that was supposed to bring global phone connectivity with a $10,000 handset for $10 per minute, provided you were calling from outdoors from an open location? It went bankrupt, taking $7 billion in investor capital with it.

To avoid the spectacle of de-orbiting [2], basically crashing and burning some 70-odd satellites in the atmosphere with unknown consequences (and wrecking a very expensive and good service for things like emergency response and military), the company was revived by private equity for a mere $25 million [3]. The service still requires users to be in the line of sight of a satellite, but prices are lower, only $1-2 per minute for a phone call and it still works anywhere in the world, well almost anywhere until now . . .

It seems that yesterday gave us a small, albeit exciting preview of what that de-orbiting might have been like. An Iridium satellite crashed in to a non-functioning Russian satellite in low earth orbit [4]. No service outages, injuries or any earth visible effects are reported. Iridium satellites are known for Iridium flares [5] (reflections of the sun from their solar panels as they orbit), bit there are no fireworks from this incident. Perhaps an enterprising personal injury lawyer [6] is on his or her way to Tempe, Arizona to pitch a lawsuit idea to the Iridium people as we speak?

. . . And that’s how it goes