A Russian-American dispute is said to be responsible for the latest delay in the launch of satellite communications project Globalstar.
Globalstar is creating a network of 48 low earth orbiting satellites to provide mobile phone services all over the world. The system, expected to launch in late 1999, will compete with the recently launched Iridium service, and others being planned.
The delay to the latest launch of four satellites - originally scheduled for 5 November - was caused by a dispute between Russian and US officials, according to satellite trade press. Russians reportedly wanted to inspect the four American satellites aboard the Soyuz rocket.
But Globalstar dismissed the report as speculation, saying the delay had been caused because Globalstar wanted more time, but the deadline could not be extended because of the short window available for the rocket launch.
Globalstar said it will attempt to launch the next four satellites on board Soyuz in mid-December.
To date, Globalstar has been plagued with problems. The launch of its first four satellites was delayed last year, and a rocket malfunction resulted in 12 Globalstar satellites going up in smoke aboard the Zenit 2 rocket in September.
The satellite industry is a risky one, according to Frank Guinard, Globalstar's regional director for the Emea region. "We anticipated that we could lose satellites - we were insured. The main problem is with the delay of the service which faces a three to four month delay," he said.
"The good news is that the technology works well," said Guinard. "We have eight satellites that world perfectly. If I had the choice between losing a satellite and having one which doesn't work, I know which I'd choose."
Analysts say advances in earth based cellular networks have reduced the need for satellite services such as Globalstar and Iridium. But Globalstar is not worried at all about the success of cellular networks, said Guinard.
"Having many operators in many markets opens up opportunities for us," he said.
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