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Second Launch Doubles Size of Iridium Next Fleet

By Kendall Russell | June 26, 2017
      Falcon 9 on the launchpad at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Photo: SpaceX.

      Falcon 9 on the launchpad at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Photo: SpaceX.

      Iridium Communications announced the successful second launch of its next-generation network, Iridium Next. This payload of 10 satellites deployed into Low Earth Orbit (LEO) approximately one hour after a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Sunday, June 25. With this launch complete, there are now 20 Iridium NEXT satellites in orbit, establishing the infrastructure for technologies such as Iridium Certus and Aireon’s space-based Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) aircraft tracking and surveillance service. 

      This launch has increased the total number of Aireon payloads in orbit to 20 with another 55 destined for space in a series of six additional launches planned for the next twelve months. Aireon’s technology will provide real-time global air traffic surveillance and tracking, which will bring aircraft visibility to all regions of the planet.

      Since the successful January 14 launch, Iridium has integrated its new satellites into the operational constellation. According to the company, the first eight operational Iridium Next satellites are already providing superior call quality and faster data speeds with increased capacity to its customers. The two additional satellites from the first launch are continuing to drift to their operational orbital plane, where upon arrival they will begin providing service. Iridium will test and integrate the satellites from this most recent launch into the constellation over the coming weeks.

      Just as with the first launch, Iridium and Thales Alenia Space teams will complete on-orbit testing and validation. Iridium will send five of the 10 satellites from this launch to adjacent orbits, or planes, to optimize the network deployment and ensure eleven operational satellites, and at least one in-orbit spare, are in each of Iridium’s six polar orbiting planes following full deployment.

      In total, 81 new satellites are being built, with nine serving as on-orbit spares and six as ground spares.