Gigaom

Four years of meticulous planning, and it all came down to one moment: the lighting of a gigantic fuse.

On June 4, 2010, Matt Desch, CEO of satellite communications company Iridium(s irdm), sat in his McLean, Va., office staring into a computer screen at a live video feed of a 368-ton rocket idling on a launch pad in Cape Canaveral, Fla. The telecom veteran had staked Iridium’s future on a $3 billion plan to bring the company’s aging constellation of satellites into the 21st century. A key part of that plan was getting 72 next-generation satellites into orbit, and it was this rocket, now preparing for its maiden flight, that would eventually carry Iridium’s precious cargo into space.

In selecting a company to launch his satellites, Desch hadn’t opted for a tried-and-true aerospace player like Arianespace or International Launch Services. Instead, he had decided to go with the upstart Space Exploration Technologies, better…

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