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Iridium NEXT constellation upgrade completed

A rendering of an Iridium NEXT satellite. Image Credit: Iridium

A rendering of an Iridium NEXT satellite. Image Credit: Iridium

Iridium Communications announced last week in a Washington D.C. press conference that it had finished its 10-year satellite upgrade project known as Iridium NEXT.

During a Feb. 6, 2019, press conference in Washington, D.C., company officials said the constellation, which had been in development since 2010 and consists of 66 satellites in low-Earth orbit and nine orbital spares and six ground spares, was completed, finishing a $3 billion next-generation satellite constellation.

Several Iridium NEXT satellites in various stages of preparation at SpaceX's integration facility before their launch. Photo Credit: Iridium

Several Iridium NEXT satellites in various stages of preparation at SpaceX’s integration facility before their launch. Photo Credit: Iridium

“The completion of the Iridium NEXT program signifies a new chapter in the Iridium story, one that sees us transforming from a big cash spender to a big cash generator,” said Iridium CEO Matt Desch, in a company statement. “This is the realization of a long, successful climb, and reaching the peak, it’s gratifying to know the future of the company is secure, and we have now financially matured as a satellite operator. Huge thanks are in order to our entire team, particularly our friends at SpaceX and our prime satellite manufacturer Thales Alenia Space and their teams.”

With the first launch of 10 next-generation satellites occurring in January 2017, the project required eight Falcon 9 launches over two years. Each mission took to the skies from Space Launch Complex 4 in Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

The ultimate goal of the satellite-upgrade campaign was deliver services to customers ranging from broadband to real-time aircraft surveillance and tracking. Iridium Communications awarded a $2.1 billion contract to Thales Alenia Space to design and manufacture the spacecraft.

On Feb. 5, 2019, the final two satellites in the constellation were brought online, marking the completion of the constellation upgrade.

According to the company, alongside the new constellation comes the Iridium Certus 9770 transceiver, which will help to reduce costs for small device users in the aviation and marine sectors on a myriad of different applications, as well as an increase in speed and efficiency. On a basic level, the Iridium 9770 is designed to improve platforms from pictures, telemetry, internet access, as well as data link.

The final 10 satellites of the constellation were launched atop a Block 5 Falcon 9 on Jan. 11, 2019.

Video courtesy of Iridium Communications



Having a life-long interest in crewed space flight, Desforges’ passion materialized on a family vacation in 1999 when he was able see the launch of Space Shuttle Discovery on STS-96. Since then, Desforges has been an enthusiast of space exploration efforts. He lived in Orlando, Florida for a year, during which time he had the opportunity to witness the flights of the historic CRS-4 and EFT-1 missions in person at Cape Canaveral. He earned his Private Pilot Certificate in 2017, holds a degree in Aviation Management, and currently works as an Operations Analyst in the aviation industry in Georgia.

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