Iridium NEXT Flight 7 being readied for launch atop SpaceX Falcon 9
SpaceX is working to rack up yet another successful launch for its 2018 manifest in the next several days. As is often the case with the NewSpace firm, this mission will be a commercial flight meant to further a long-standing collaboration with one of the company’s most loyal customers.
The successful completion of the Iridium-7 mission should see the number of Iridium NEXT satellites placed in orbit on behalf of Iridium Communications increase to 65. It is currently expected that eight flights are needed to complete the 75-satellite constellation.
Iridium NEXT represents a $3 billion investment by the company. Launches like Flight Seven are being conducted to put in place a mobile, global satellite network and has been described by Iridium Communications as “…one of the largest technology upgrades ever completed in space.”
If everything with the Iridium NEXT constellation performs as advertised, the fleet will provide an array of services, such as global aircraft tracking and surveillance – provided by the Aireon system.
The Iridium NEXT constellation is meant to replace the entire fleet of “legacy” spacecraft already in orbit.
The Iridium-7 mission is currently slated to lift off at 4:39 a.m. PDT (7:39 a.m. EDT / 11:39 GMT) Wednesday, July 25, 2018. The launch should be the next-to-last flight of the planned Iridium NEXT program.
A total of 81 Iridium NEXT satellites have been constructed. Sixty-six of these will comprise the operational on-orbit fleet with an additional nine in space serving as on-orbit spares. The remaining six will stay on Earth and serve as ground spares.
The version of the Falcon 9 rocket selected to carry out this particular flight is the Block 5 variant. It is scheduled to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base’s Space Launch Complex 4E in California. The two-stage Falcon 9 is fueled by a mixture of liquid oxygen and RP-1 (a refined version of kerosene).
SpaceX has already carried out 12 flights so far in 2018 either from its facilities at Vandenberg or from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40 and Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A in Florida.
“Our strong presence in the world of safety services is a testament to the unique benefits our network can enable,” said Matt Desch, chief executive officer at Iridium said in a May 2018 release issued by the company. “With every successful launch, we are one step closer to Iridium NEXT being fully operational, which officially starts a new age of satellite connectivity. When it comes to safety communications, especially for those operating in the skies or out at sea, having built-in network redundancy and resiliency enabled by our satellite’s crosslinks is paramount, especially during times of distress. We recognize this and feel that as the only network covering the entire planet, we have an inherent responsibility to constantly innovate for this critical arena.”
Correction: A previous version of this article stated the launch date for Iridium-7 was July 20. It should have been July 25.
Video courtesy of Iridium Communications
Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.