Rocket Science Drives Us

I quote a lot of movie lines. I often encounter situations where a movie quote applies just perfectly.

One of my favorites comes from ‘Apollo 13’. Tom Hanks, playing Jim Lovell says (and I’m paraphrasing here), ‘There are 816 things that have to go right. We’re on number 8.’ Bringing Apollo 13 home was undoubtedly one of the most magnificent failures in US history, magnificent because despite the dismal situation the ground crew got it done.

The news this week that Boeing is unable to unfurl Skyterra 1’s massive 22 metre reflector antenna is a stark reminder of how precise and risky the satellite communications industry can be. If the antenna will not unfurl, Skyterra will not be able to provide the satellite service that is a pre-condition of offering ATC service. There really is no hard ‘fix’ for this problem – you can’t just send a service technician up to slap on a little more grease or manually deploy the antenna. There is another Skyterra satellite but it will take about a year to get it ready for flight. However, the people addressing this challenge are in fact rocket scientists and their success will serve as yet another buoy to the Satcom industry.

While Skyterra’s momentary challenge poses what is likely an ‘antacid-an-hour’ feeling in those directly involved, it reminds us that other Satcom players will face similar risks and potentially similar ‘do-or-die’ situations:
‘What if” – ‘s third launch crashes?
‘What if’ – ‘s satellite start failing before the launch of NEXT?
‘What if’ – Some rogue nation decides to start shooting down ‘s I-4 satellites?

Here’s the thing: There are so many things that could