Iridium NEXT flight 3 gets launch date
SpaceX is targeting Sept. 30, 2017, for the liftoff of the third set of 10 Iridium NEXT satellites for Iridium Communications. The launch atop a Falcon 9 rocket is targeted for 9:30 a.m. EDT (13:30 GMT) from Space Launch Complex 4 East (SLC-4E) at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
In 2007, then Iridium Satellite LLC announced plans to launch its next-generation Iridium constellation from 2015 through 2017. However, numerous delays pushed the first launch to January 2017.
Iridium plans to replace each vehicle in its 66-satellite legacy constellation, some of which have been in space since 1997, one by one with the upgraded NEXT spacecraft. The company said that a network replacement of this size and scale has never been achieved before.
SpaceX will launch a total of 75 Iridium NEXT spacecraft over eight Falcon 9 launches. With multiple satellites in six orbital planes, each new vehicle will have to be activated, checked out, and switched with a legacy satellite.
“We completed the commissioning of [the first 10] Iridium NEXT satellites about a week ahead of schedule, which is a real testament to the planning and preparation of our satellite operations team,” said Matt Desch, Iridium Communication’s CEO, in an April 2017 earning conference call. “What’s important is that our experience with in-orbit testing, slot swaps[,] and the new satellite performance gives us confidence that we’ll be able to manage the roughly 60-day launch cycle SpaceX is targeting following the second launch.”
If Iridium-3 launches on the date currently scheduled, it will be just over three months after the June 25, 2017, Iridium-2 launch. Iridium-4 is tentatively scheduled for no earlier than November 2017.
Like the other two Falcon 9 Iridium missions, SpaceX will attempt a recovery of the first stage of this rocket, likely on the company’s Automated Spaceport Drone Ship Just Read The Instructions.
To date, Iridium has completed enough spacecraft for the next three launches. The new satellites feature new services such as Iridium CertusSM, which is a new aviation broadband communications platform, and the AireonSM space-based ADS-B aircraft surveillance and flight tracking network.
The satellites are manufactured by Thales Alenia Space and assembled by its subcontractor, Orbital ATK, at its facility in Gilbert, Arizona. Each has a planned lifespan of 15 years.
Collin R. Skocik has been captivated by space flight since the maiden flight of space shuttle Columbia in April of 1981. He frequently attends events hosted by the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, and has met many astronauts in his experiences at Kennedy Space Center. He is a prolific author of science fiction as well as science and space-related articles. In addition to the Voyage Into the Unknown series, he has also written the short story collection The Future Lives!, the science fiction novel Dreams of the Stars, and the disaster novel The Sunburst Fire. His first print sale was Asteroid Eternia in Encounters magazine. When he is not writing, he provides closed-captioning for the hearing impaired. He lives in Atlantic Beach, Florida.