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First Globalstar satellites go pop

Launch failure hits schedule, shares

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Motorola satellites go haywire at a slow drip rate, but Globalstar goes a lot further - the first 12 in its network vanished in a ball of fire this week as a Ukrainian Zenit 2 blew up five minutes after lift-off. The explosion cost $160 million and whacked 40 per cent of Globalstar's stock. Loral Space & Communications, contractor and leader of the Globalstar consortium, lost 28 per cent. It's not yet clear what went wrong, but the accident will have set back the commercial launch of the network, due next year, by several months. Globalstar still intends to be operational by the end of next year, but is likely to be using a 32 satellite network initially, rather than the 48 originally projected. It also says that although the lost satellites were insured, it will face another $185 million in associated costs, and is seeking additional financing to cover this and similar contingencies. The consortium says it has launch dates with Russian rockets over the next four months that will be enough to replace the lost rockets. The accident will however increase the growing scepticism on the viability of satellite networks, caused by doubts over potential markets and a string of accidents and malfunctions over the past few months. And under current financial circumstances, Russia may not turn out to be the ideal place to be planning to launch satellites from. ®

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