Iridium satellite network prepares for decommissioning

Unless a last-minute buyer is found, the 66-satellite telecommunications and paging network will soon be history

Time continues to run short for the bankrupt and troubled Iridium LLC communications satellite network.

Since Iridium filed for bankruptcy last year, more than 30 prospective buyers have looked into deals to purchase and maintain the system, but have backed away, according to Scott Wyman, a spokesman for Motorola Inc., which Iridium hired to operate and maintain the network of 66 telecommunications and paging satellites. Motorola has not been paid for its services since March, he added.

Iridium, which ended its commercial service March 17, is now preparing to decommission its network, which cost $5 billion to put together. Decommissioning means allowing the orbiting craft to fall into the Earth's atmosphere and burn up. That will happen in the coming months unless attempts to find a qualified suitor are successful, Wyman said.

The cost to operate the network is several million dollars a month, which is more than many prospective buyers want to pay, Wyman said.

"There are government agencies that are aware of the process we're going through," he said. Those agencies are being kept up to date about the pending decommissioning schedule in case they want to come forward with a proposal for buying the network, he said.

Some government agencies may be interested in the global paging and telecommunications capabilities he said, although the U.S. Defense Department has already declined.

Col. Dick Gaudino, director of the federal Defense Information Systems Network in Arlington, Va., said the Defense Department has reviewed the possible uses of the satellites but has passed on purchasing the network. The system, because it was designed and built as a commercial, international communications network, does not offer secure communications that would fit with the military's needs, he said.

"We don't have an interest in buying it and owning it solely for a military purpose," Gaudino said.

On Monday, however, yet another investment group, this time including the Seattle-based aircraft builder, Boeing Co., will go before a bankruptcy court in New York to inquire about the Iridium network, Gaudino said. A last-minute deal could be made at that time, he said.

A spokesman for Boeing could not be reached for comment today.

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