Site: Teledesic Corporation/Boeing Defense & Space Group
2300 Carillon Point
Kirkland, WA 98033

Date Visited: June 27, 1997

WTEC: K. Bhasin (report author), C. Mahle, S. Townes



Teledesic was founded in 1990 and is headquartered in Kirkland, Washington, a suburb of Seattle. Teledesic's principal shareholders are Craig O. McCaw and William H. Gates III. Mr. McCaw, who leads the company as its Chairman, is the founder of McCaw Cellular Communications, which he built into the world's largest wireless communications company before its 1994 merger with AT&T. Mr. Gates is the co-founder, Chairman and CEO of Microsoft Corporation, the world's largest computer software company.

At the 1995 World Radio Conference, Teledesic received support from the developed and developing world alike, resulting in a new international satellite service designation for the frequencies necessary to accommodate the Teledesic Network. The action of the World Radio Conference mirrors Teledesic's success in obtaining a similar designation from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC). In March 1997, the FCC licensed Teledesic to build, launch, and operate the Teledesic Network.

In April 1997, Teledesic Inc. awarded Boeing Company, a $9 billion contract to coordinate the building of Teledesic system. Boeing also committed to capital investment in the project. In addition to bringing advanced space technologies, Boeing has extensive experience in management of complex projects.

Boeing Commercial Space Company was established in 1995 as a subsidiary of Boeing Company. The markets in the area of distance learning and airplane informational networks are being addressed. The applications are based on use of satellite communications.


Teledesic plans to begin service in the year 2002. Teledesic does not plan to market services directly to end-users. Rather, it will provide an open network for the delivery of such services by others. The Teledesic Network will enable local telephone companies and government authorities in host countries to extend their networks, both in terms of geographic scope and in the kinds of services they can offer. Ground-based gateways will enable service providers to offer seamless links to other wireline and wireless networks.

Teledesic uses small, "earth-fixed" cells both for efficient spectrum utilization and to respect countries' territorial boundaries. Within a 53 by 53 km cell, the network will be able to accommodate over 1,800 simultaneous 16 kbps voice channels, 14 simultaneous E-1 (2 Mbps) channels, or any comparable combination of channel bandwidths. The Teledesic Network is designed to support a peak capacity of 1,000,000 full-duplex E-1 connections, and a sustained capacity sufficient to support millions of simultaneous users. The network scales gracefully to much higher capacity by adding additional satellites. The network offers high capacity "bandwidth-on-demand" through standard user terminals. Channel bandwidths are assigned dynamically and asymmetrically, and range from a minimum of 16 kbps up to 2 Mbps on the uplink, and up to 28 Mbps on the downlink. Teledesic will also be able to provide a smaller number of high-rate channels at 155 Mbps to 1.2 Gbps for gateway connections and users with special needs. The low orbit and high frequency (30 GHz uplink/20 GHz downlink) allow the use of small, low-power terminals and antennas, with a cost comparable to that of a notebook computer.

Teledesic's engineering effort builds on previous work done in many advanced commercial and government satellite programs, and was assisted by several government laboratories. The Teledesic system utilizes proven technology and experience from many U.S. defense programs, including the "Brilliant Pebbles" program, which was conceived as a similar orbiting global constellation of 1,000 small, advanced, semi-autonomous, interconnected satellites. Since 1990, Teledesic has drawn on the expertise of the contractors on that and many other programs for input into the early system design activities.

Design, construction, and deployment costs of the Teledesic Network are estimated at $9 billion. The Teledesic Network represents the first time that satellites and their associated subsystems will be designed and built in quantities large enough to be mass produced and tested. These substantial economies of scale enable a cost structure comparable to that of wireline service in advanced urban areas.


Power Technology

Cost target for power systems for the Teledesic system are very challenging. Si-based solar cell array and Li-ion batteries are considered as a baseline. Modular and scaleable designs are being planned. The solar arrays are expected to produce 3 to 5 kW minimum power for system voltage of 80 to 120 V.

Phased Array Antennas for Satellite Communications

The emphasis is on developing low cost active phased arrays for space as well as ground applications. Sixteen element active arrays at 20 GHz using low cost techniques have been demonstrated. Active elements were fabricated using large size GaAs wafers at four foundries. There is also effort in the area of optically controlled phased arrays.

Optical Technologies

Optical technologies for intersatellite links (ISL) are being developed, and Boeing R&D has strong background in this area. The effort is on establishing the reliability performance of the optical components and the effect of in-flight environment on the ISL optical system.

Fiber optic module technology for the spacecraft data bus is also being developed. Better than 400 Mbps data rates for the bus have been achieved for space applications. Error rates for the photonic space system have been established.

Research and development work is also taking place on the development of microwave photonics to enhance the performance of microwave subsystems on the spacecraft. An analog optoelectronic switch and wideband optical receiver have been developed. Although optical control of phased arrays is being explored, it is still not a possibility. Cost is one of the major factors.

Network Architecture and Simulation

Connection oriented network architecture is being developed for the proposed system. Satellites will be used in a switch mode with eight nodes of ISLs. A network simulation testbed has been developed to study the dynamic reallocation and optimize the network performance. A connectionless IP-based, ATM network is also being studied.

Radiation Hardened ASICs and MMIC Technologies

The approach to development of ASIC and MMIC technology is to advance the state-of-the-art in design tools at the Boeing Design Center. The chips are then fabricated in various foundries on variety of semiconductor substrates. Low-cost, radiation-hardened fast ASICs chips are being developed. MMICs operating at 44 GHz frequencies have been demonstrated.

Manufacturing Technologies

Advanced manufacturing software tools are developed and used to streamline the satellite manufacturing process. The process is to break down the satellite manufacturing cycle into the smallest easily manageable steps. Advanced simulation tools are also being developed for design and manufacturing of satellites. Significant emphasis is placed on quality and reliability issues.

Sea Launch Project

Boeing is developing sea launch capabilities. Boeing is the integrator of the project, K.B. Yuzhnoye/P.O. Yuzhmash (Ukraine) is building the Zenit two-stage rocket, which uses a Block DM upper stage from RSC Energia (Russia), and Kaerner Martime a.s. (Norway) is building the floating platform for lift off. The floating launch platform will be located in the South Pacific about 200 miles east of Christmas Island and 1,000 miles southeast of Hawaii. It will launch satellites weighing up to 500 kg to launch in GEO orbit. The team plans to reduce launch costs by combining and applying existing technologies to develop sea launch capabilities for commercial satellite providers. First test launch with a simulated payload is scheduled for March 1998.


Teledesic Inc. plans to launch its first satellite in the year 2000 and complete the constellation in 2002. Boeing will be the integrator, developer and technology provider for the proposed Teledesic system. Boeing not only brings its expertise of integrating large systems in a timely and cost effective manner, but it is also a developer of advance spacecraft and launch technologies needed for the current and next-generation satellite systems. However, the challenge of deploying the proposed Teledesic system remains.

Published: December 1998; WTEC Hyper-Librarian