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10 October 2017
| Alan Burkitt-Gray
Iridium is almost half way to replacing its operational fleet of 66 satellites, following its third successful SpaceX launch yesterday.
Each of the three launches has put
10 new satellites into orbit, gradually replacing the old
Iridium satellites, still in service after nearly two decades.
Iridium will replace the rest by the middle of 2018, said the
"Each successful launch brings us one step closer to both a
technological and financial transformation," said Iridium CEO
Matt Desch. "One of our core strategies is to offer new
services that are either flat out impossible or not easily
replicated by more traditional 'bent pipe’ and
Yesterday’s launch, from Vandenberg Air Force Base
in California, put satellites number 21 to 30 into low-Earth
orbit. Now 30 so-called Iridium Next satellites are in orbit,
nearly half the amount required for a full operational
constellation of 66.
Thales Alenia Space and its subcontractor Orbital ATK are
building 81 Iridium Next satellites. A total of 75 satellites are planned for
launch, so that nine will be in-orbit spares and six as
ground spares. SpaceX will launch all 75, in another four
launches of 10 at a time and a final launch of just five.
Once the service is fully operational, Iridium plans to offer
broadband services on L-band – satellite industry
terminology for 1-2GHz – as well as aircraft and ship
"For us and our partners, Iridium Next is an engine for
innovation, and services like these are just the start," said
Desch. "Moreover, we’re on track to completion in
The fleet will cover the whole planet, including the poles,
which are not served by conventional satellite