Three years ago, on January 14 2017, under the sunny skies of California, the first ten Iridium® NEXT campaign satellites were successfully launched from the Vandenberg Air Force Base launch complex. We didn’t appreciate it at the time, but this launch would mark a major milestone in the history of constellations. In effect, it heralded the replacement of the entire existing Iridium constellation. A total of 75 Iridium NEXT campaign satellites were launched at a steady pace, on eight different missions over two years – a remarkable achievement. The constellation was fully operational on February 5, 2019 as it officially entered service.
“Over the last three years, the upgraded Iridium satellite constellation has proven to be robust and reliable, with every satellite operating at high performance” said Matt Desch, CEO of Iridium. “I want to thank Thales Alenia Space, industrial prime contractor for the program, for the excellent job done on this incredibly complex and important program.”
Look back to launch one
Iridium NEXT: the most sophisticated telecommunications system in orbit
For those of you who are not yet familiar with this program, the Iridium NEXT campaign launched a constellation of telecommunications satellites in low Earth orbit, comprising 66 operational satellites in six orbital planes at an altitude of 780 km, each plane including 11 interconnected satellites. The constellation also includes nine in-orbit spares and six more on the ground. To give you an idea of their size, each satellite weighed 850 kg on launch, about the weight of a small car.
A global network supplying unrivaled mobile communications capability (for people, land vehicles, aircraft and ships), Iridium NEXT satellites are purpose-designed to offer truly global coverage, including oceans and poles. This complex system, recognized for its robustness and sophistication, is the only one of its kind to operate above oceans and seas, which of course cover some 70% of our planet.
It functions independently from local ground infrastructures, thanks to its inter-satellite links, to guarantee secure communications, protected against intrusion and piracy. Furthermore, in the case of natural disasters such as typhoons, hurricanes and tsunamis, the constellation can play a vital role by maintaining communications services.
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