RE: Iridium Flares to End?

Jim Varney (
Fri, 13 Aug 1999 20:47:14 -0700

On 12 Aug 99, Wayne T Hally wrote:

> That's the scary part for astronomers. If the Iridium Consortium just gives 
> up on them, there will be random Mag 0 to -8 flares across the sky at any 
> time. Yes, they are predictable to a certain extent by their orbits, but an 
> uncontrolled satellite can produce a flare at any time, anywhere along it's 
> orbit when the dark/sunlit geometry is favorable. It will be a nightmare 
> for astrophotography, and especially meteor observing. I know some of you 
> think I am whining, but believe me, for every amateur astronomer to be 
> required to have a working satellite prediction program with current TLE's 

I don't think you're whining. Iridium flares are a form of light pollution. 
If the flares interfere with meteor surveys then it's a man-made 
interference into a natural science.

The real question is whether or not future LEO constellations will learn 
from this and minimize the negative impacts. Measures to minimize orbital 
debris are common now after the debris problem was recognized. Hopefully 
comsat designers will learn from Iridium to minimize the optical and radio 
footprint they leave in the sky.

Phil Chien wrote in response to Wayne T Hally:

> If you're going to whine again - at least provide some basis for your
> comments instead of just lashing out without any evidence to back your
> claims.

Yeah, but you didn't provide any evidence either.  Your scenario of an 
orderly transfer of Iridium operations to another firm is a reasonable one, 
but it's your conjecture, not evidence.

The problem with Iridium is that $3 per minute is way too much. How much of 
that $3 was for debt service and how much is for operations I don't know. 
If you take away the debt service after bankruptcy and you still have to 
charge $1 or $2 per minute to pay for operations, then maybe no one will 
want to buy the satellites even if they are deeply discounted. Satellites 
in orbit are a "valuable asset" only if operating them is profitable.

Abandonement isn't likely but I wouldn't rule it out as a possibility.

 -- Jim

Jim Varney        -121.398 W, 38.457 N, 10m
Member, Sacramento Valley Astronomical Society
Sacramento Space Page