The Mouse That Roared Into Orbit

Reactions in the communications world ranged from amusement to outrage in 1988 when the Kingdom of Tonga cleverly exploited a loophole in international law to lay claim to seven satellite slots that would enable the tiny South Pacific island state to provide phone and data service to the Pacific Rim. After all, tiny Tonga could hardly manage to carry off such an operation alone.

On November 17, Tonga unveiled its big brother. It announced that Rimsat Ltd., of Fort Wayne, Ind., would lease four of Tonga's slots for 10 years for an undisclosed sum. Rimsat, founded in April by James A. Simon, a wireless cable TV operator, has signed a deal for Russia to build and launch six satellites into the Tongan slots, with the first launch scheduled for next fall. In the meantime, Russia will move two of its unused satellites into Tonga's space so that limited phone service can begin as early as January.

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