Iridium Communications Inc. announced that at 5:27pm PST (1:27 am UTC on Dec. 23), SpaceX successfully launched the fourth set of 10 Iridium NEXT satellites into orbit from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Today’s launch marks the midway point of the Iridium NEXT launch program, and was the first Iridium launch to use a SpaceX flight-proven rocket. The first stage booster for Iridium-4 was previously used for Iridium-2, making Iridium the first company to reuse the same rocket booster.
Each launch strategically delivers new satellites to specific orbital planes, so that the complete Iridium NEXT constellation will be operational as soon as possible after all launches are complete. The Iridium network is comprised of six polar orbiting planes, each containing 11 operational crosslinked satellites, for a total of 66 satellites in the active constellation. Of the 10 Iridium NEXT satellites launched today, nine were delivered to their operational orbital plane, and the tenth is set to drift to an adjacent orbital plane. Once fully deployed, Iridium NEXT will blanket the earth with satellite connectivity, enabling broadband connectivity from even the most remote parts of the planet.
“Today’s launch is an incredible milestone – we have officially reached the halfway point,” said Matt Desch, chief executive officer, Iridium. “It was an amazing sight to see the Iridium-2 booster back in flight today, carrying Iridium-4 into space. We are excited to be taking part in SpaceX’s rocket reusability initiative and make history as the first company to reuse the same booster.” Desch continued, “With over half of the new constellation now in orbit, momentum around the testing of our new broadband service, Iridium CertusSM, will continue to progress quickly. I know our customers are very excited about our expanding capabilities.”
Iridium NEXT is not only delivering faster data speeds and other new capabilities with Iridium Certus, but also enabling revolutionary technologies from the hosted payloads onboard each satellite. Among these are the AireonSM real-time aircraft surveillance payload and the maritime Automatic Identification System (AIS) payload, co-operated by Harris Corporation and exactEarth. That payload, known as exactViewTM Real Time (RT) Powered by Harris, provides global real-time ship and vessel tracking across all the earth’s oceans. Through the Aireon and exactView RT hosted payloads, both built by Harris Corporation, the Iridium NEXT satellite constellation is the only system capable of providing global, real-time surveillance and tracking of aircraft and ships.
“With each successful Iridium NEXT launch, Harris gets one step closer to bringing our service to market,” said Bill Gattle, president, Harris Space and Intelligence Systems. “The Satellite Automatic Identification System is vital for the maritime market, and Harris is excited to help bring services, like exactView RT, global— providing the industry with access to the most accurate vessel information available. For the first time, the entire planet will have real-time AIS coverage from one network, and with the expected growth of maritime shipping and increasing access to polar sea routes, this service is needed more than ever.” Gattle continued, “We can’t think of a better way to end 2017 than with today’s launch, and we are looking forward to what is coming in 2018.”
All Iridium NEXT launches take place out of SpaceX’s west coast launch facility at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Four additional launches are planned for the first half of 2018, including a unique rideshare that will carry five Iridium NEXT satellites, and the twin satellites for the NASA/German Research Center for Geosciences (GFZ) Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On mission.
Iridium NEXT is the company’s $3 billion, next-generation, mobile, global satellite network scheduled for completion in 2018. Iridium NEXT will replace the company’s existing global constellation in one of the largest technology upgrades ever completed in space. It represents the evolution of critical communications infrastructure that governments and organizations worldwide rely on to drive business, enable connectivity, empower disaster relief efforts and more.