Iridium Communications Inc. announced today that all 10 Iridium NEXT satellites for its fifth launch have arrived and are in processing at SpaceX’s west coast launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. This launch will increase the total number of Iridium NEXT satellites in space to 50 and is the second Iridium launch to use a “flight-proven” SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Iridium-5 is currently targeted for March 29, 2018 at 7:19 am PDT (14:19 UTC).
The operational Iridium constellation is comprised of 66 interconnected satellites, divided into six polar orbiting planes with 11 satellites in each plane – as well as nine additional in-orbit spares with one or two in each plane. Destined for Iridium orbital plane one, all 10 of the Iridium NEXT satellites deployed during this launch will immediately go into service following rigorous testing and validation. To date, four Iridium NEXT launches carrying 10 satellites each have been completed, and over half of the Iridium NEXT constellation has been put into active service. Iridium has contracted with SpaceX to deliver 75 Iridium NEXT satellites to orbit through a series of eight launches.
“Now that we are more than halfway deployed, we can really focus on the impact our next-generation of services will make on the industry,” said Iridium CEO, Matt Desch. “Testing of our exciting new L-band broadband service, Iridium CertusSM, has been performing well, and with every successful launch, we are closer to bringing our full suite of Iridium NEXT solutions to life. With each day, we are meeting key milestones to complete our new network this year, and we can’t wait to see this fifth set arrive in space to keep up the momentum.”
This fifth launch will use the same Falcon 9 rocket first stage that carried the third set of 10 Iridium NEXT satellites to orbit in October of 2017. Upon arrival to the launch site, each Iridium NEXT satellite begins a number of pre-launch processing steps including mating to the dispenser, fueling and encapsulation within the fairing. The satellites were 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. 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 upon to drive business, enable connectivity, empower disaster relief efforts and more. Iridium NEXT will enable and introduce new services like the Company’s next-generation communications platform, Iridium Certus, and the AireonSM space-based ADS-B aircraft surveillance and flight tracking network.