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Laguna Niguel Firm to Build Five Satellites

May 12, 1987|MARIA L. La GANGA | Times Staff Writer

A little-known Laguna Niguel company said Monday that it intends to build and launch five commercial navigational satellites via a rocket built by Space Services of Houston, which is headed by former astronaut Donald K. (Deke) Slayton.

The satellites then will provide the data for a precision location-finding and tracking service that 3-year-old Starfind Inc. intends to market, company officials said. The satellites, according to a company spokesman, will be sensitive enough to detect signals from pocket-size transmitters.

The first satellite is tentatively scheduled for launch in late 1988, company spokesman Steve Chadima said. The satellites are to be manufactured in Laguna Niguel, but construction, which should take between 12 and 18 months, still must be approved by the Federal Communications Commission and has not yet begun, he said.

The fledgling company "has been pretty quiet on purpose," Chadima said. Industry analysts contacted Monday knew nothing of it.

Such experts did, however, say the commercial satellite industry, which hopes to exploit outer space for commercial use, has not yet gotten off the ground.

"Certain private corporations have been interested in using Air Force facilities for launching," said Rick Huling, spokesman for the Air Force's space division. "We're working on that, but it hasn't become a reality yet."

Space Services and Starfind officials have been close-mouthed about the costs of manufacturing and launching the 350-pound satellites and about their financial backing.

"They (satellites) are very expensive to launch," Chadima said, citing $50 million as a "typical launch price" for government-launched satellites.

Because his company's satellites are significantly smaller than most launched by the government, Chadima said, the launch costs will be lower.

"Insurance is in the millions (of dollars) alone," he said. "We are in the process of discussing negotiations with leasing companies to provide lease financing for the satellite and the launch. . . . The leasing companies would provide the capital. We are not announcing yet who they are."

Starfind was founded in 1984 by Richard Halavais, 49, a Newport Beach native who has been in the aerospace business for nearly 30 years, Chadima said. Halavais reportedly was en route to Houston and could not be reached for comment Monday.

Halavais has applied for a patent on his satellite design, which he hopes will provide location information on everything from stolen cars and lost children to fleet vehicles such as taxicabs and moving vans, Chadima said.

One of the first applications planned by Starfind is an automobile security system, Chadima said. A transmitter would be installed as part of an alarm system, and would give off a signal that could be picked up by the satellite. If the car was stolen, the satellite's computer could track the missing automobile.

Automobile security companies would sell the hardware, and Starfind would provide the tracking service, Chadima said.

Other satellite navigational systems operate by an age-old process called triangulation, whereby a computer picks up signals from at least three satellites and calculates the vehicle's location in relation to the satellites.

The Starfind system, however, requires only one satellite to locate and track the position of the system's special transmitter, Chadima said.

Space Services plans to launch the Starfind satellites from an National Aeronautics and Space Administration facility on Wallops Island, Va., using Conestoga IV rockets. The Texas firm already has launched one commercial rocket but has not yet put a satellite in space, said Mark Daniels, Space Services' special projects manager.

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