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Down to Earth

Down to Earth: Satellite Technologies, Industries, and Cultures

Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Down to Earth
    Book Description:

    Down to Earthpresents the first comprehensive overview of the geopolitical maneuvers, financial investments, technological innovations, and ideological struggles that take place behind the scenes of the satellite industry. Satellite projects that have not received extensive coverage-microsatellites in China, WorldSpace in South Africa, SiriusXM, the failures of USA 193 and Cosmos 954, and Iridium-are explored. This collection takes readers on a voyage through a truly global industry, from the sites where satellites are launched to the corporate clean rooms where they are designed, and along the orbits and paths that satellites traverse. Combining a practical introduction to the mechanics of the satellite industry, a history of how its practices and technologies have evolved, and a sophisticated theoretical analysis of satellite cultures,Down to Earthopens up a new space for global media studies.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-5333-7
    Subjects: Sociology, Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    Thousands of satellites have been launched into orbit during the past fifty years. During these launches eager spectators gazed upward in amazement as a fiery plume turned into a delicate white contrail tracing a rocket as it bolted into the sky only to vanish a few minutes later. The scene of a satellite launch is familiar to most. Not only have thousands of people witnessed launches with their own eyes, such scenes have appeared in television news accounts and have been popularized by Hollywood films over the years. While the purpose of a launch is to thrust a satellite into...

  5. I Concepts and Cartographies

    • 1 The Invention of Air Space, Outer Space, and Cyberspace
      (pp. 19-41)

      This chapter offers a genealogy of three related discourses and programs about achieving, enacting, and managing communicative space:air space, outer space, andcyberspace. I first consider how something called “outer space” (a space of freedoms, an object of government and policy, and a space “settled,” understood, and organized through a new regime of technologies fit for global communication) developed out of a pre–World War II conception ofair space(having to do with both radio and flyover space, and hence a conception of space supporting and problematizing national sovereignty). I then suggest ways that these two historical conceptions...

    • 2 Dethroning the View from Above: Toward a Critical Social Analysis of Satellite Ocularcentrism
      (pp. 42-60)

      A colleague of mine, working in a remote part of Amazonia, showed a local illiterate farmer there a satellite image of his property, explaining that it was taken by a machine floating so high up in the sky that it could not be seen. Incredulous, the farmer denied that such a thing was possible; it was, simply, beyond the horizons of possibility in his worldview. The enormous discrepancy between the views held by my colleague and the farmer illustrates that satellite images, far from constituting some “objective” vision of Earth, are always wrapped within and bounded by cultural understandings and...

    • 3 The Geostationary Orbit: A Critical Legal Geography of Space’s Most Valuable Real Estate
      (pp. 61-81)

      This chapter begins 22,236 miles (35,786 km) above Earth’s equator, where a satellite drifts eastward at 6,897 miles (11,100 km) per hour. The satellite receives information from Earth and bounces it back. The satellite is an average one: about 12.5 feet (3.8 m) high, and, with its solar panel “wings” extended, about 85 feet (26 m) wide. It weighs 3,807 pounds (1,727 kg), including its fuel, which it will use to maintain its precise orbital position over the course of its operational lifespan of about 15 years.¹ Two aspects of this satellite make it particularly important, neither of which has...

    • 4 “Freedom to Communicate”: Ideology and the Global in the Iridium Satellite Venture
      (pp. 82-98)

      To wander onto the terrain of the 1990s global is to invite disorientation. Its media expressions and literature seem a jumble of outlooks—of promotion and critique, of declamations of control and unruly realities, and of totalizing visions and their limitations in an ever locally grounded world. For a taste of these jostling perspectives, consider these two nearly contemporaneous quotes:¹

      Freedom to communicate, anytime, anywhere

      For the first time, Iridium shrinks the size of instant, reliable, truly worldwide communication to fit comfortably in the palm of your hand. And with a single telephone number, it follows you from isolated regions...

    • 5 The NAVSTAR Global Positioning System: From Military Tool to Global Utility
      (pp. 99-121)

      The NAVSTAR Global Positioning System (GPS), which enabled users to determine their precise location in three dimensions and time within billionths of a second, evolved from concept to operational system in slightly more than two decades.¹ Colonel Bradford Parkinson, U.S. Air Force (USAF) director of the newly formed GPS Joint Program Office in 1973, directed his team to synthesize a design from several competing programs.² The USAF launched the first operational GPS satellite in 1989 and declared a twenty-four satellite constellation fully operational in April 1995.³

      The Department of Defense (DoD) needed GPS primarily to deliver weapons on target, but...

    • 6 Satellites, Oil, and Footprints: Eutelsat, Kazsat, and Post-Communist Territories in Central Asia
      (pp. 122-140)

      In their study of energy, water, and telecommunications systems, Stephen Graham and Simon Marvin note, “infrastructure networks and the socio-technical processes that surround them are strongly involved in structuring and delineating the experiences of urban culture and what Raymond Williams termed the ‘structures of feeling’ of modern urban life.” Furthermore, they write, “As capital that is literally ‘sunk’ and embedded within and between the fabrics of cities, [infrastructure networks] represent long-term accumulations of finance, technology, know-how, [and] organizational and geopolitical power.”¹ Rather than examine infrastructures that are “sunk” beneath Earth’s surface, in this chapter I consider the accumulations of finance,...

  6. II Satellite Mediascapes

    • 7 From Satellite to Screen: How Arab TV Is Shaped in Space
      (pp. 143-155)

      One of the most intriguing questions about Arab satellite television has always been how far the technical possibilities of transnational broadcasting could offer a real, practical escape from national regulation, since national regulation in most Arab countries is designed to prop up incumbent regimes. It was apparent by the end of the 1990s that a majority of Arab governments were complicit in an emerging pan-Arab system of governance over transnational broadcasts. Under this system, mutually agreed controls operated at the national level to limit the ability of any dissenting broadcaster (in particular, Al-Jazeera) to report or uplink within the region...

    • 8 Beyond the Terrestrial?: Networked Distribution, Multimodal Media, and the Place of the Local in Satellite Radio
      (pp. 156-176)

      For most people in the United States, “satellite radio,” means direct broadcast satellite radio—Sirius and XM, which merged in 2008. These are relatively new players in the broadcasting world, beginning to beam their programming only at the start of the twenty-first century. Surrounding this form of satellite radio are discourses of newness and difference from “terrestrial radio”—new technologies, new choices, new possibilities for niche programming, and new business models. “Radio has been stuck in an engineering time warp for two generations,” wrote Mike Langberg in thePhiladelphia Inquirer, “[and] not much has changed since the introduction of FM...

    • 9 Crossing Borders: The Introduction and Legislation of Satellite Radio in Canada
      (pp. 177-193)

      In a relatively short period, digital satellite radio has emerged as an important mold-breaker of conventional analog radio. The delivery via satellite of radio programming and audio services to fixed and portable receivers now challenges the hegemony of locally defined broadcast radio and is leading to new configurations of audience reception and of audio program services. As such, its challenge to conventional radio has often been met with strong resistance, particularly where, by virtue of its transnational nature, satellite radio has been seen to circumvent the normal regulatory or business regime applicable to local or national radio.

      The introduction of...

    • 10 WorldSpace Satellite Radio and the South African Footprint
      (pp. 194-203)

      The launch of WorldSpace’s AfriStar satellite in October 1998 made three beams of up to eighty channels available to subscribers on the African continent. WorldSpace is a subscription-based satellite radio service founded in 1990 by Noah Samara designed for emerging markets in Africa and Asia. WorldSpace’s AfriStar and AsiaStar satellites, launched in 1998 and 2000, respectively, each have three beams—East, West, and South—that transmit a mix of news, music, and entertainment to subscribers with branded WorldSpace receivers. WorldSpace is an interesting case study as a venture that attempted to find a middle ground between explicitly prodevelopment satellite and...

    • 11 Content vs. Delivery: The Global Battle for German Satellite Television
      (pp. 204-218)

      Media expansion is a risky business, and the success of a new media venture depends on a number of factors. The challenges of competition, cooperation, and regulation are omnipresent considerations. Is it more important to control the media content, or is a successful launch dependent upon control of the delivery system? Within the media industries there are many examples of the basic conflict of content versus delivery, of television producers versus cable companies, or, in the context of emerging media, of gaming companies versus mobile providers. One entity may own the content while another owns the distribution system. In a...

  7. III Orbital Matters

    • 12 When Satellites Fall: On the Trails of Cosmos 954 and USA 193
      (pp. 221-237)

      Thousands of satellites and space objects have fallen back to Earth since the space age began. More than forty years ago, in May 1968, the Nimbus B-1 weather satellite plummeted into the Pacific Ocean just off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, where I live. The fallen satellite was recovered, intact, from the bottom of the Santa Barbara channel, but its failure caused an enormous stir because of the four pounds of plutonium it had on board. The event prompted an investigation that moved from the depths of the ocean to the launchpad at Vandenberg Air Force Base out to...

    • 13 AFP-731 or The Other Night Sky: An Allegory
      (pp. 238-253)

      On February 28, 1990, the Berlin Wall was crumbling, and the Cold War was thawing. In the weeks before, Germany had agreed on a plan for reunification, the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party pledged to give up its monopoly on power, and the first McDonald’s had just opened in Moscow. In Cape Canaveral, Florida, the Space ShuttleAtlantissat on a movable launchpad with its bone-white delta wings lit with floodlights from below.¹

      STS-36 was going to be an odd mission. There were no high-minded press releases about the wonders of space travel or the scientific instruments aboard...

    • 14 Microsatellites: A Bellwether of Chinese Aerospace Progress?
      (pp. 254-279)

      Central to China’s rise in space—no less important than its becoming the third nation to test an anti-satellite weapon (on January 11, 2007) and the third to orbit an astronaut (on October 15, 2003)—is its rapid development of microsatellites. Microsatellites (weighing 10 to 100 kg, or far less than the average satellite) are believed by both Western and Chinese analysts to represent the key to improving space capabilities by lowering the cost of establishing a robust presence in space with built-in redundancy to ensure system continuity. They do so by enabling mass production and modularization, and through their...

    • 15 Disjecta membra, the Kármán Line, and the 38th Parallel
      (pp. 280-292)

      Between launch and orbit appear disjecta membra. The scattered remains of rocket stages, boosters, thrusters, canisters, tanks, and other odds and ends of launch-to-orbit debris appear to represent a trail of afterthoughts for most observers of outer space activities. Lacking the visual and sonic spectacle of blastoff, and devoid of the excitement and utility from either machine or human activities in outer space that commence once the desired height above Earth is reached, the debris in between launch and orbit is a lacuna for most people. Space debris is an empty signifier that is also a floating signifier—floating for...

    (pp. 293-296)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 297-312)