Iridium Communications Inc. [IRDM] announced the date for the first launch of its next global satellite constellation, Iridium NEXT, as Dec. 16, 2016, pending Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval, the company said Dec. 1.
The launch is set to take place on a Space Explorations Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) Falcon 9 rocket launched from Vandenberg AFB, Calif. Iridium plans to use to Falcon 9 to deliver a total of 10 Iridium NEXT satellites at a time into low-Earth orbit (LEO).
However, the first launch is contingent on the FAA approving SpaceX’s return to flight after the Sept. 1 anomaly at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. (Defense Daily, Oct. 31). That incident was investigated with FAA oversight. Iridium said it expects to be SpaceX’s first flight launch customer since that time.
The Iridium NEXT constellation is meant to replace the world’s largest commercial satellite network of LEO satellites as a sort of tech upgrade. Thales Alenia Space partnered with Iridium to manufacture, assemble, and test the 81 Iridium NEXT satellites. At least 70 of them are planned to be launched by SpaceX.
The company’s primary launch campaign consists of seven Falcon 9 launches, deploying 10 Iridium NEXT satellites at a time. The 70 satellites are scheduled to be deployed by early 2018.
The company highlighted that the process of replacing the satellites in this size constellation on a one-by-one bases has never been completed before.
“We’re excited to launch the first batch of our new satellite constellation. We have remained confident in SpaceX’s ability as a launch partner throughout the Falcon 9 investigation,” Matt Desch, chief executive officer (CEO) at Iridium, said in a statement,
“We are looking forward to return to flight with the first Iridium NEXT launch. Iridium has been a great partner for nearly a decade, and we appreciate their working with us to put their first 10 Iridium NEXT satellites into orbit,” Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer (COO) of SpaceX, added.
Iridium NEXT aims to allow the development of new products and solutions across its partner ecosystem. Also, Iridium Cestus, the company’s new multi-service communications platform enabled by the new satellites will deliver faster speeds and higher throughputs across multiple industry verticals, Iridium said. This new service is planned to be commercially available in 2017 and is currently undergoing testing on Iridium’s existing network.