This Satellite Could Find Needle In Haystack

Posted: July 27, 1988

General Electric Co. yesterday took another leap in space technology by announcing a $50 million contract to build a satellite that eventually could pinpoint the location of ships, cars and trucks - even pedestrians - from 22,300 miles above the earth.

The satellite will be GE's third built for Geostar Corp., a Washington pioneer in tracking satellites.

Although the U.S. military already has a sophisticated space-tracking network, the company is among the first to design a system for locating and monitoring commercial ships, trucks, cars and aircraft and people with signals bounced off satellites.

"We think we have developed the only system in the world for this," said Martin A. Rothblatt, president and chief executive officer of the six-year-old firm.

Geostar already provides some services through a package built onto a GTE communications satellite in orbit. Rothblatt said the firm daily locates more than 15,000 objects, mostly for trucking companies.

In the past, commercial enterprises could obtain such services only by leasing space on U.S. satellites. Most of the leasing was for tracking commercial vessels and for petroleum and mineral exploration. Advanced tracking was reserved for the military.

However, Geostar envisions a system in which, say, the family car can be tracked to within 20 feet or a lost and injured hiker will be able, within seconds, to transmit his exact position and condition to an emergency dispatcher. Two-way communications and space-age paging services are also planned.

Rothblatt cited an example in which a truck broke down in Death Valley in California. By transmitting its location via satellite to its headquarters in Texas, the truck was able to be repaired in two hours, he said.

GE is an integral part of Geostar's plans. In October, it gave the Astro- Space Division, which employs about 5,000 people in East Windsor, N.J., and Valley Forge, a $100 million contract to build two satellites.

Geostar said the satellites will be able to monitor more than 25 million vehicles or people an hour. It plans to launch all three in the early 1990s using the space shuttle, if the U.S. program resumes as planned.

The shuttle carries the satellites to an altitude of 100 miles above the earth and releases them. A booster rocket then propels the satellites into the higher orbit in which they remain stationary over a fixed point on the Earth.

Rothblatt said the company has 60 employees and had revenues of $4 million last year.

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