Iridium NEXT constellation now complete

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche
ShipInsight

14 January 2019


A successful SpaceX launch on Friday 11 January which delivered ten satellites into low earth orbit means that Iridium’s NEXT constellation is now complete.

The company announced that all 10 satellites have successfully communicated with the Iridium Satellite Network Operations Center and are preparing to undergo initial on-orbit testing. This was the eighth and final launch for Iridium's launch campaign with SpaceX, seeing a total of 75 new satellites deployed over less than two years.

Iridium has invested approximately $3 billion to replace its original satellite system with a new, state-of-the-art network, ushering in an era of financial and technological transformation for the company. At the core of this transformation is the dramatic change in cash flows as construction capital expenses end and a decade or longer "capex holiday" allows significant cash generation from existing and new services. These include Iridium CertusSM, which will provide the world's fastest and only truly global specialty L-band broadband connectivity, enabling highly mobile internet access using smaller and more cost-effective terminals, and the AireonSM aircraft surveillance system, extending real-time visibility of aircraft for air traffic controllers and airlines to the entire planet for the first time.

The Iridium satellite constellation is claimed as being the only communications network with pole-to-pole coverage of the entire planet. It is comprised of six polar orbiting planes, each containing 11 crosslinked satellites totalling 66 in the operational constellation. The 10 satellites launched as part of tes final mission were deployed to orbital plane three. Since the launches began, the constellation has been undergoing a one-for-one replacement, new satellite for old, achieved through a highly choreographed in-space manoeuvre known as a "slot swap."

To date, new satellites make up 60 of the 66 satellites in operation, with the final six scheduled for activation in the coming weeks from the latest launch. In total, 81 satellites are being built with 75 successfully launched. Nine of the satellites launched will serve as on-orbit spares, and the remaining six will be ground spares.