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Down to Earth

Satellite Technologies, Industries, and Cultures

Edited by Lisa Parks and James Schwoch

Publication Year: 2012

Down to Earth presents 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 Earth opens up a new space for global media studies.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Series: New Directions in International Studies

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-12xii

The editors of this book gratefully acknowledge the support of the Qatar Foundation and of Northwestern University in Qatar, who generously coprovided a subvention to Rutgers University Press in support of the publication of this volume. We are also thankful for the advice and leadership of Leslie Mitchner, Anne Hegeman, Lisa Boyajian, Katie Keeran, Suzanne Kellam, and Rutgers...

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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...

I. Concepts and Cartographies

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Chapter 1: The Invention of Air Space, Outer Space, and Cyberspace

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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, and cyberspace. 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...

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Chapter 2: Dethroning the View from Above: Toward a Critical Social Analysis of Satellite Ocularcentrism

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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...

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Chapter 3: The Geostationary Orbit: A Critical Legal Geography of Space’s Most Valuable Real Estate

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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” ex tended, 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...

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Chapter 4: “Freedom to Communicate": Ideology and the Global in the Iridium Satellite Venture

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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...

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Chapter 5: The NAVSTAR Global Positioning System: From Military Tool to Global Utility

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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...

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Chapter 6: Satellites, Oil, and Footprints: Eutelsat, Kazsat, and Post-Communist Territories in Central Asia

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pp. 122-140

In their study of energy, water, and telecommunications systems, Stephen Graham and Simon Marvin note, “infrastructure networks and the sociotechnical 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...

II. Satellite Mediascapes

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Chapter 7: From Satellite to Screen: How Arab TV Is Shaped in Space

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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...

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Chapter 8: Beyond the Terrestrial?: Networked Distribution, Multimodal Media, and the Place of the Local in Satellite Radio

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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...

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Chapter 9: Crossing Borders: The Introduction and Legislation of Satellite Radio in Canada

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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...

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Chapter 10: WorldSpace Satellite Radio and the South African Footprint

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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...

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Chapter 11: Content vs. Delivery: Content vs. Delivery The Global Battle for German Satellite Television

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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...

III. Orbital Matters

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Chapter 12: When Satellites Fall: On the Trails of Cosmos 954 and USA 193

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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...

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Chapter 13: AFP-731 or The Other Night Sky: An Allegory

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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 Shuttle Atlantis sat on a movable launchpad with its bone-white delta wings lit with floodlights from...

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Chapter 14: Microsatellites: A Bellwether of Chinese Aerospace Progress?

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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...

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Chapter 15: Disjecta Membra, the Kármán Line, and the 38th Parallel

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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...


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pp. 293-296


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pp. 297-312

E-ISBN-13: 9780813553337
E-ISBN-10: 0813553334
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813552736
Print-ISBN-10: 0813552737

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 8 illustrations
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: New Directions in International Studies

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Artificial satellites in telecommunication -- Popular works.
  • Artificial satellites -- Popular works.
  • Telecommunication -- Social aspects -- Popular works.
  • Mass media -- Popular works.
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