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Delta rocket launches first satellites of global communications system

May 6, 1997

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AP) _ A rocket launched the first five satellites Monday for the planned Iridium global communications system to expand mobile telephone service.

The launch was a milestone for Iridium, a much-delayed effort by a Motorola-led consortium, and was the first use of a McDonnell Douglas Delta II rocket since a January failure in Florida.

The rocket booster lifted off at 7:55 a.m. PDT, Air Force Lt. Carol Kanode said. ``It will be three weeks before we know if they are in the right orbit,″ she said.

It was the fourth attempt to launch the rocket in as many days. The latest attempt was Sunday when an alarm sounded three seconds before liftoff. Human error was blamed.

The Iridium system is to provide wireless telephone, data and paging capabilities to customers anywhere on the planet. Iridium still plans to begin offering services in the fall of 1998.

The system requires 66 satellites in six orbital planes for total Earth coverage. One spare satellite will also be placed in each orbital plane during deployment of the system for a total of 72 satellites.

Forty of the satellites are to be launched in groups of five aboard the Delta II rocket from Vandenberg. The remainder will be launched aboard Russian and Chinese boosters.

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