Iridium to start launching new satellites 'this summer'

Wholesale satellite operator Iridium plans to start launching its new satellite fleet this year and should have all satellites in orbit – via SpaceX – by the end of 2017.

The company is starting a programme of replacing all its current satellites, which have been in service since the 1990s. The new fleet will be called Iridium Next.

Matt Desch, CEO of the company, said: “"With our first launch with SpaceX this summer, our primary focus remains on constellation replacement and the introduction of new business services. The first Iridium Next satellites are now complete, and production is ramping up well.”

The new fleet will consist of 66 satellites in service, with six spares in orbit and another nine on the ground. They are being built by Thales Alenia Space in $2.1 billion contract. SpaceX will launch them in batches of 10 at a time.

The extra services that the new satellites can deliver will boost Iridium’s revenue by at least 30%. The company said that it expects total service revenue in 2018, the first year after the new fleet is completely in operation, will be between $420 million and $465 million. This compares with $317 million in 2015.

The company had 788,000 billable subscribers at the end of its latest financial year, a 5% rise on the previous year, “driven by growth in machine-to-machine and government customers”, said Iridium.

The commercial customer base accounts for 55% of business, in markets such as maritime, aviation, oil and gas, mining, recreation, forestry, construction, transport and emergency services. Iridium also has contracts with two US government departments, the Defense Information Systems Agency and the Department of Defense.

The number of commercial M2M data subscribers has grown 9% in a year to 365,000 customers, said Iridium, with average revenue per user $14 a quarter, down from $15 a year before.

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