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Silicon Sky: How One Small Start-Up Went Over the Top to Beat the Big Boys Into Satellite Heaven Hardcover – April 1, 1999


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Product Details

  • Series: Sloan Technology Series
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (April 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0738200948
  • ISBN-13: 978-0738200941
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #814,128 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Gary Dorsey's Silicon Sky tells the engrossing tale of a private company's quest to develop the world's first low-earth-orbit commercial satellite--a momentous accomplishment that paved the way for everything from reasonably priced GPS navigational receivers to pay-at-the-pump credit-card terminals at filling stations. Dorsey tackles the true story of the emerging world of "microspace" in a manner reminiscent of Tracy Kidder's pioneering The Soul of a New Machine, using an interesting combination of first-hand observations, critical analysis, and literary techniques usually found in novels. By sticking close to Orbital Sciences Corporation's extensive cast of characters working in the early design stages in 1992 through the product launch in 1995, Dorsey brings readers into the labs and boardrooms as the fledgling operation grows into a booming company that entered 1998 with $3.9 billion in orders already in its books. --Howard Rothman

From Scientific American

The small start-up of the title, now a darling of investors, is Orbital Satellite Corporation. At a time when the U.S. government's space programs had slid into a pattern of what aerospace historian Alex Roland called gargantuan missions, overwrought technology and excessive budgets, David Thompson--the driving spirit and CEO of Orbital--saw an opportunity for commercial success in space. His idea was to put up a constellation of small satellites in orbit a few hundred miles above the earth to provide such consumer services as telecommunications, position finding and vehicle navigation. The company succeeded by developing small satellites and rockets to launch them. By 1998 Orbital had become one of the 10 largest satellite-related firms in North America, with earnings estimated at $750 million. Dorsey, a journalist, spent the period from 1992 to 1995 closely observing the company's activities. His breezy account of the adventure is an entry in the Sloan Technology Series.

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Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 5, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I agree completely with the reader from Monument, CO. This book was very disjointed and poorly written. The only favorable reviews I see on this page are from people involved in the satellite business. One five star rating comes from a guy who has not read the book! This book pales in comparison to one of my favorites, "The Soul of a New Machine", by Tracy Kidder. The characters in Silicon Sky are sketchy and at times superficial. For example, all we really learn about Grace is that she sings pop songs while walking and loves to get in the face of the contract manufacturers - even though she was apparently an engineer of some importance. Dorsey also does a rather poor job at documenting how various technical obstacles are overcome. How exactly was the "last great obstacle", the problem with the satellite's batteries overcome? We'll never know. The last thing Dorsey talks about is some experiments with some mysterious shielding material. Did the material work? Or did the engineers have to come up with something else? Instead we are treated to coverage of engineers howling when they found out their board does not work because the MCU is placed wrong. I've designed boards for embedded systems for years. The only time I've had an error of this nature I found I had mislabled the board's silkscreen. Takes a tech about three minutes to fix with a hot-air rework station. Sorry, I really wanted to like this book. But it appears that Dorsey does not have enough technical expertise to determine the relative importance of projects and engineers to really make this an informative and entertaining book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 2, 1999
Format: Hardcover
One of the most inspiring business books of the past year tells how a little company full of big ideas, Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corp., got into the business of putting commercial satellites into space. In Silicon Sky: How One Small Start-Up Went Over the Top to Beat the Big Boys into Satellite Heaven, author Gary Dorsey chronicles the progress of a pipe dream as it has evolved into a company with 1998 revenues of $734 million. Orbital founder David Thompson gave Dorsey unfettered access to the company's inner workings -- from the beginning of its efforts to design a commercially viable communications satellite in 1992 through the first launch in 1995. The author clearly identifies with Thompson's entrepreneurial ardor, contrasting Orbital's culture of discovery with the 'feudal,' unimaginative culture of old-line aerospace companies addicted to government contracts. What Dorsey lacks in objectivity, he makes up for in clarity. From his fly-on-the-wall perch, sitting in on company meetings and peering over the shoulders of workers in the lab, he has observed and distilled into concise prose the details that made Orbital's success possible. Dorsey explains the technology behind the business so fluidly that it hardly seems like rocket science. BOOKPAGE, June 1990 REVIEW BY E. THOMAS WOOD
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 9, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Having worked at Orbital during the period this book covers, I was shocked at the inconsistency throughout this book. The author writes as an authority on Orbital, but in reality, he has had a very small slice of insight into what went on during that time. Critical events affecting the company as a whole which almost everyone at the company would know about did not show up in this book. For instance, two highly publicized failures of the Pegasus Rocket which occurred prior to the flight of Orbcomm were not even discussed. These failures definitely had some impact to the Orbcomm project. When you talk about Orbital, you talk about an end to end space company. That includes building the satellite, launching it, and providing the infrastructure to control it. The attempt was made at getting this across, but it really did not do justice to that topic. The book should be described as the incomplete history of the design of a satellite, not a history of Orbital. I do have to say that management personalites were described rather accurately. The engineers in the story are really depicted as an inexperienced bunch of kids who came right out of school with their "license to learn" (degree) and were directed to design a satellite system with nothing but their egos. Quite a bit of the book describes the long hours they worked and the stress involved in getting it done. This wasn't a superhuman abnormality in the engineering world at Orbital, as the author would lead you to believe. He could have told us about it in maybe 3 sentences, not 300+ pages. With that out of the way, the author could have brought this history of Orbcomm into recent history, instead of stopping before the constellation was launched. In summary, I have to say this book was a big disappointment. It doesn't do justice to Orbital or provide a consistent picture of the Orbcomm constellation development.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 7, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I've not yet read this book of course, it isn't published yet. But I'll write a review anyway. You see, I was one of the engineers working on the satellite development team that Gary Dorsey has written about in Silicon Sky.
"Studied" might be a better term than written about... We were definitely studied, like amusing and sometimes suprisingly humanoid monkeys in a cage. We always used to joke about the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. It goes something like this: You can't measure anything without affecting it a little bit. Dr Heisenberg was a physicist, and wrote down his idea in terms of th mathematics of atomic particles, but it is a concept equally valid in the field of anthropology, which is what this book is going to be about. I've read a couple of books by Gary Dorsey, and they share this feature; he works hard to get inside the head of his subjects and succeeds in taking you there, too. That and his style entranced me. It doesn't take much time at all to get fully engrossed because the book immediately surrounds you with its own "virtual reality" So, Gary was our own Heisenberg, measuring us, and certainly impacting the process a little along the way.
I remember being surprised that Dave Thompson (the Big Boss, we always called him) had allowed Gary unlimited access. Gary was like a spider on the wall, crawling silently into any group he wanted, from the executives' meetings to bitch sessions in the lab. The little red light of his tape recorder, an occasional note he took, these things reminded you this was all going to come out, eventually. Gary would also come around and interview you occasionally. I remember thinking, "damn, I don't \ have time for this guy.
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