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Orbcomm Communications Satellite Network

Key Data

On 30 November 1998, Orbcomm Global, L.P. (Orbcomm), became the first commercial provider of global low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite data and messaging communications services, as it formally inaugurated full commercial service with its pioneering satellite based global data communications network.

With its constellation of 28 satellites in low Earth orbit and 14 gateway earth stations installed or under construction on five continents, Orbcomm is able to provide fixed site monitoring, mobile asset tracking and two-way messaging/wireless Email services on a global scale.

A partnership of Orbital and the Canadian telecommunications giant, Teleglobe Inc., the Orbcomm network allows customers to send and receive short text messages almost anywhere on Earth at a very low cost. Primarily focused on industrial markets, Orbcomm allows companies to extend their MIS capabilities to mobile or remotely located assets that were previously beyond the reach of their computer networks.


Over 115 companies in the transportation, oil and gas, utilities and construction industries, as well as numerous US and international government agencies, are already using Orbcomm services in North America, South America, Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa. The company predicts a high level of growth.


Orbcomm was the first company to formally propose a commercial low-orbit communications satellite network when it filed its original US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) license application in February 1990. It was also the first to be licensed to construct and operate such a system, receiving FCC approval in October 1994. In March 1998, the FCC expanded Orbcomm's original license from 36 to 48 satellites.

The Orbcomm system was conceived by Orbital Sciences Corporation in the late 1980s and developed as an internal project by the company through the launch of two prototype satellites in April 1995. Teleglobe joined Orbital as a full joint-venture partner in Orbcomm in September 1995.


Depending on the application, an Orbcomm customer can use a small fixed site or handheld mobile device to transmit messages to an Orbcomm satellite. This information is instantly relayed to a ground gateway station and is then sent to Orbcomm's network control centre, where messages are routed to their final destination via the internet, dedicated telephone line, pager or fax. Messages typically contain about 25 to 500 characters.

Orbcomm's two-way digital packet data network is made up of space, ground and customer equipment elements. These are: a multi-satellite constellation, which consists of 28 satellites now in space in five orbital planes, plus an additional ten ground spare satellites for future capacity upgrades; an advanced ground tracking, control and switching system, including 14 gateway earth station sites currently in operation or under construction; and subscriber equipment and application software packages, which cover over 25 specific uses, that easily integrate with the most commonly used enterprise management systems.

In 1998, when the $500 million project was first launched, message delivery reliability exceeded 99.99% and end-to-end latency averaged less than 20 seconds from satellite contact. Orbcomm satellite system's capacity is approximately 1 million messages per hour, or nearly 10 billion per year.

Orbcomm applications include monitoring of fixed assets such as electric utility metres, oil and gas storage tanks, wells and pipelines and environmental projects; tracking of mobile assets such as commercial vehicles, trailers, rail cars, heavy equipment, fishing vessels, barges and government assets; and messaging services for consumers, commercial and government entities.


Orbcomm is a partnership owned by Orbital Sciences Corporation, Teleglobe Inc. of Canada, and Technology Resources Industries Bhd. of Malaysia. Orbital is a space technology company that designs, manufactures, and markets a broad range of space products and satellite-based services. Teleglobe Inc. is in global telecommunications. Technology Resources Industries Bhd., a publicly traded holding company, controls the largest cellular operator in Malaysia.