Iridium Communications Inc. announced that all ten of their Iridium NEXT satellites for its fourth launch are now in processing at SpaceX’s west coast launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. This launch is the midway point of Iridium’s launch campaign with SpaceX. It is the first of two Iridium NEXT launches that will utilize the flight-proven SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets. Iridium-4 is currently scheduled for late December.
“We’re approaching our halfway point on this journey, and with each launch, we gain more momentum,” said Matt Desch, CEO, Iridium. “This launch will bring us to 40 Iridium NEXT satellites in space, which is more than half the number required for a full Iridium NEXT operational constellation. It has been remarkable to witness the increased speed, capacity and throughput of our network as we continue to replace our original satellites with new Iridium NEXT satellites.”
The same Falcon 9 rocket first stage that carried ten Iridium NEXT satellites for the company’s second launch in June of 2017 will also carry this payload of 10 satellites. This means that Iridium will be the first company in history to reuse the same rocket.
Upon arrival at the launch site, each Iridium NEXT satellite begins a number of pre-launch processing steps, including mating to the dispenser, fueling and encapsulation. The satellites are then shipped two at a time, in specially-designed motion and temperature-controlled containers designed to maintain optimal environmental conditions.
Iridium NEXT is the company’s $3 billion next-generation mobile, global satellite network scheduled for completion in 2018. The operational Iridium constellation is comprised of sixty-six satellites divided into six polar orbiting planes with eleven satellites in each plane. Destined for Iridium orbital plane two, nine of the ten Iridium NEXT satellites deployed during this launch will immediately go into service following rigorous testing and validation. The remaining satellite will undertake a nearly year long journey to orbital plane one, where it will serve as a spare satellite. Currently, three Iridium NEXT launches carrying ten satellites each have been completed. The fourth launch will bump the total number of new Iridium NEXT satellites in orbit to forty. Iridium has contracted with SpaceX to deliver seventy-five Iridium NEXT satellites to orbit, sixty-six operational and nine on-orbit spares, through a series of eight launches.
Edited by Ken Briodagh