Authored by Gary Dorsey, the non-fiction book follows the Orbcomm LEO messaging satellite and its team from inception to launch. The author stayed with the team which built the satellite for 4 years to write the book.
By 1991, David Thompson, CEO of Orbital Sciences Corporation has tasted success with his startup company's Pegasus launch vehicles for commercial satellite launches. The company now aims for a new frontier - a low cost satellite messaging system. They plan a constellation of 24 cheap LEO satellites named Orbcomm for this. During this period, competition is hotting up with Motorola raising literally billions of dollars for its mega 66 satellite constellation Iridium.
The book follows the day-to-day travails of the Orbcomm team of mostly freshers from college as they try to build the first commercial messaging satellite. The project was planned to be completed in just 1.5 years, but drags on for a full 3 years. During this period, the team is pushed to the extreme by faulty parts, changing requirements and increasing weight of the hardware. Some of the parts that they fashion for the satellite turn out to be ingenious hardware and software hacks necessitated by the failings of the commercial parts of the time.
In the final chapter, even after the initial 2 satellites are launched in April 1994 they fail to respond to the earth station. The team works with almost no sleep for 2 months before they find the problem and fix it, thus bringing back Orbital from the brink of economic collapse. The company later launches all its planned satellites in the constellation. In comparison, Motorola is heavily delayed and even though it does launch its satellites, it goes bankrupt on its Iridium satellite phone system, not realizing the emerging potential of GSM global roaming agreements.
The author has kept so close to the Orbcomm team that sometimes it becomes unbelievable that the book is not fiction. The book is a good read. The workings of the management and engineers are covered in microscopic detail. However, he doesn't write to interest and can be boring at times. Also, there are just too many team members who are followed up in detail and it gets hard remembering who does what when they all come together.
Trivia: OSX is the name of the custom OS running inside the Orbcomm satellites....Continua