MCLEAN, Va., – Iridium Communications Inc. announced that at 07:31 a.m. PST (15:31 UTC) on Friday, January 11, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base and delivered the final 10 Iridium NEXT satellites to low earth orbit (LEO).
All 10 satellites have successfully communicated with the Iridium Satellite Network Operations Center and are preparing to undergo initial on-orbit testing. This was the eighth and final launch for Iridium’s historic launch campaign with SpaceX, seeing a total of 75 new satellites deployed over less than two years.
Iridium has invested approximately $3 billion to replace its original satellite system with a new, state-of-the-art network, ushering in an era of financial and technological transformation for the company. These include Iridium CertusSM, which will provide global specialty L-band broadband connectivity, enabling highly mobile internet access using smaller and more cost-effective terminals, and the AireonSM aircraft surveillance system, extending real-time visibility of aircraft for air traffic controllers and airlines to the entire planet for the first time.
“It has been an honor to deliver 75 new Iridium NEXT satellites to orbit. Matt and the entire Iridium NEXT team have been incredible to work with,” said Gwynne Shotwell, President and Chief Operating Officer at SpaceX. “On behalf of all of our employees, congratulations to Iridium on achieving this incredible milestone.”
The Iridium satellite constellation is comprised of six polar orbiting planes, each containing 11 crosslinked satellites totaling 66 in the operational constellation, creating a web of coverage around the Earth. The 10 Iridium NEXT satellites launched as part of this final mission were deployed to orbital plane three. Since the launches began, the constellation has been undergoing a one-for-one replacement, new satellite for old, achieved through a highly choreographed in-space maneuver known as a “slot swap.”
“There are few words to describe what it feels like to complete a vision started many years ago when I joined the company and what it means for Iridium and our future,” said Iridium CEO Matt Desch. “Our gratitude to SpaceX for helping bring this new generation of satellites to orbit, so flawlessly every time is beyond words. However, for Iridium, we’re not quite across the finish line yet, as there is still some work to do to put these satellites into operation. Once that’s complete, our future will be in place. I’m just incredibly proud of our team right now.”
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To date, new satellites make up 60 of the 66 satellites in operation, with the final six scheduled for activation in the coming weeks from today’s launch. Iridium NEXT satellites were designed by Thales Alenia Space, which serves as system prime contractor, and are being integrated by Thales’ subcontractor, Northrop Grumman. The production process features an 18-station, state-of-the-art assembly line system for all 81 Iridium NEXT satellites being built.
In total, 81 satellites are being built with 75 successfully launched. Nine of the satellites launched will serve as on-orbit spares, and the remaining six will be ground spares