Sun. Jun 16th, 2019

Launch completed for US$3Bn new generation of ship communications satellites

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Iridium has commissioned 60 of 66 LEO satellites of the Next constellation

A constellation of new low Earth orbit satellites will deliver higher bandwidth for voice and data services for global maritime operations.

SpaceX has completed the launch programme of Iridium Communications Next satellite constellation that will deliver greater L-band connectivity for maritime domains worldwide.

The final 10 satellites of Iridium Next were launched into low Earth orbit (LEO) on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base, US on 11 January. In total, 75 satellites have been deployed in less than two years as part of a US$3Bn investment.

This was the eighth and final launch of this immense campaign and ensures that Iridium can provide global coverage for ship tracking and communications. It will use 66 LEO satellites for that global reach with nine deployed as in-orbit spares.

Iridium is replacing its original LEO satellite constellation with these new units. It will use this constellation for its Iridium Certus L-band communications service for shipping. This will include voice and data services with pole-to-pole coverage to commercial vessels, passenger ships, fishing vessels, offshore support ships and workboats.

Iridium Next comprises of six polar orbiting planes, each containing 11 cross-linked satellites. This creates a web of coverage around the Earth. As satellites were launched into orbit, Iridium has been undergoing a one-for-one replacement through slot swapping, which is a highly choreographed in-space manoeuvre.

Iridium chief executive Matt Desch said this eighth launch completes the company’s vision for a new constellation. However, there is still more work to be done before everything is completed.

“We are not quite across the finish line yet,” said Mr Desch, “as there is still some work to do to put these satellites into operation. Once that is complete, our future will be in place.”

As of 11 January, 60 of the Thales Alenia Space-designed and Northrop Grumman-built satellites were in operation, with the final six scheduled for activation in the coming weeks. Six more satellites will remain in storage as ground spares.

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