SpaceX launch to bolster 'Internet of things' satellite network

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., June 20 Fri Jun 20, 2014 12:51pm EDT

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., June 20 (Reuters) - A Space Exploration Technologies' Falcon 9 rocket was cleared for launch on Friday to put six small satellites into orbit, boosting machine-to-machine communication services sold by Orbcomm Inc .

Liftoff of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida was scheduled for 6:08 p.m. EDT (2208 GMT), though the weather might be a problem. Air Force meteorologists predicted only a 30 percent chance conditions would be suitable for liftoff. Saturday's forecast improves to 60 percent.

The launch, which would be SpaceX's 10th Falcon 9 mission, is intended to put six of Orbcomm's 17 next-generation satellites into orbits about 500 miles (800 km) above Earth. The new satellites, built by privately owned Sierra Nevada Corp and Boeing, will join Orbcomm's existing 25-member network.

"For the most part, we're in the 'Internet of things.' We help commercial companies monitor their assets," Orbcomm Chief Executive Marc Eisenberg said in an interview.

Each satellite in the $200 million, 17-member Orbcomm Generation 2, or OG2, constellation has more capacity than the entire existing constellation, he said.

In addition to longer messages between, for example, retailers and their shipping containers or construction companies and their cranes, OG2 will plug holes in the current system, making the network faster.

Currently, Orbcomm has gaps of about 30 minutes to an hour when satellites are out of range.

"We're launching directly into that hole in the sky so the network is going to get dramatically quicker," Eisenberg said. OG2 spacecraft are designed to last 10 years.

"We've got a great base of customers and we need to show them that there are years of service that Orbcomm is going to continue to supply," Eisenberg said. "Machine-to-machine communications, or the Internet of things, has really picked up over time. It's just kind of hitting its stride now."

Orbcomm is paying a cut-rate $47 million for two Falcon 9 flights, the second of which is slated for launch later this year.

Orbcomm originally bought rides on SpaceX's smaller Falcon 1 boosters, but those rockets were retired in 2009. SpaceX moved Orbcomm to the larger Falcon 9s, but kept the price the same.

"That would be priced today at about $120 million," Eisenberg said. "They kind of took it on the chin financially to make sure we had a path to space." (Editing by Jonathan Oatis)