SpaceX marks the Completion of Multi-Launch Contract with Iridium

By Telecom Tech Outlook | Friday, March 15, 2019

On January 11, SpaceX launched the final 10 Iridium Next satellites into the orbit. It completed its first mission of the year and the last mission of a multi-launch contract that was signed with Iridium Communications. The SpaceX Falcon 9 took off at 10:31 a.m. Eastern from Air Force base in California. Iridium’s new 860 kilogram satellites separated one-by-one from the rocket one hour later from the launch. Within 15 minutes, the separation was complete, and Iridium confirmed telemetry from all the ten satellites at 11:53 a.m. Eastern Time. The launch marked the completion of $3 billion Iridium Next constellation, which now contains 75 satellites in orbit, out of which 66 are operational units, and the remaining nine are additional units. Iridium’s legacy fleet from Lockheed Martin and Motorola which was launched two decades before was replaced by second-generation satellites built by Thales Alenia Space.

The first-stage booster which launched Telesat’s communication satellite Telstar 18 Vantage last September was used again by SpaceX to launch the Iridium satellites on Falcon9. In this mission, payload recovery was not attempted, something which SpaceX often tried and failed. Falcon9 had landed eight minutes after liftoff on the droneship. The contract with Iridium was complete after the latest launch. The deal was downsized after knowing the potential of Falcon9. The project was handed over to SpaceX, where the project was split between the German Research Centre for Geoscience twin GRACE-FO science and NASA. The recreated launch carried five Iridium Next satellites which increased the in-orbit constellation. Desch stated that the contract price remained the same even after the changes. The new ten satellites will replace the legacy satellites in three weeks and serve as operational units.

The formed constellation will allow the Iridium’s new Certus products to have improved L-band connectivity to aircraft, boats, and other end users. The launch will provide financial independence to the company, and the security will make the satellite network operator mature and successful, which will create a lot of never seen opportunity, stated Desch. The launch completed Aireon’s network of aircraft tracking sensors, which were added as payloads to each Iridium Next satellite.