Iridium satellite fleet ‘nearly half way’ to replacement
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 company.
“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 geostationary systems.”
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 tracking services.
“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 2018.”
The fleet will cover the whole planet, including the poles, which are not served by conventional satellite technology.