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Iridium Adds Eighth Launch with SpaceX for Satellite Rideshare with NASA/GFZ

By Ken Briodagh February 01, 2017

Iridium Communications recently announced that it will undergo an eighth launch in the process of placing its next-generation satellite IoT network. The launch has been contracted with SpaceX on a Falcon 9 rocket.

The NASA/GFZ Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE-FO) mission orbiters are also on board, and Iridium said this kind of ridesharing is economical for all parties, and affords Iridium the ability to launch five additional satellites for its global satellite network. The rideshare is anticipated to launch out of Vandenberg Air Force Base in California by early 2018.

“This is a very smart way to get additional Iridium NEXT satellites into orbit,” said Matt Desch, CEO, Iridium. “This launch provides added resiliency to our network for not much more than we had planned originally to launch 72 satellites, including two with Kosmotras.”  Desch continued, “We are pleased to be sharing a rocket with NASA and GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences for this additional SpaceX launch, and GFZ has been a great business partner throughout this process.”

Iridium has always expected to launch additional satellites after the Iridium NEXT construction was completed to use the nine ground spares built into the program. This rideshare represents a material savings from other supplemental launch options due to the efficiency of sharing the rocket with GRACE-FO, and the incremental cost during the Iridium NEXT construction period is immaterial when considering the avoidance of unspent amounts contemplated under the Kosmotras program. It also affords Iridium the opportunity to rearrange its launch and satellite drifting plan and launch these five satellites directly into their operational orbital plane while increasing the number of planned in-orbit spares by three satellites.  Further, Iridium will be able to complete the whole operational constellation at a faster rate than it would have with seven launches. Iridium will still consider launching satellites with Kosmotras once approvals are available.

Iridium NEXT is the company’s next-generation global satellite constellation.  Replacing Iridium’s existing network of low-Earth orbit satellites, Iridium NEXT is poised to re-energize the mobile satellite industry with faster speeds and higher throughputs for all industry verticals.  The launch of the Iridium NEXT constellation represents an unprecedented feat for satellite communications, and has been coined the largest “tech refresh” of its kind.




Edited by Stefania Viscusi

Editorial Director

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