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Iridium completes fifth set of NEXT launch

Iridium NEXT is the company’s $3 billion, next-generation, mobile, global satellite network scheduled for completion in 2018.

Iridium Communications Inc. has successfully launched the fifth set of 10 Iridium NEXT satellites into orbit with SpaceX. All 10 new satellites have successfully communicated with the Iridium Satellite Network Operations Centre and are preparing to begin testing. Shortly before launch, the Iridium network is claimed to have surpassed 1 million active subscribers.

More than half of the subscribers on the Iridium network are IoT devices, delivering a wide variety of solutions by hundreds of licensed technology partners. These devices are designed to do everything from tracking endangered species and monitoring power lines to controlling shipping container temperature levels or serving as tsunami warning systems. Once the Iridium NEXT satellite constellation is fully deployed in 2018, the constellation will blanket the entire earth with its new capabilities like the Iridium Certus L-band broadband service and Aireon global aircraft surveillance and tracking. 

“It’s a unique coincidence that we passed the one million subscribers mark right at this launch, and it’s particularly exciting because we’ve surpassed this milestone earlier than we had anticipated,” said Matt Desch, chief executive officer at Iridium.

“The new satellites and services we’re launching and continued strong subscriber growth are cementing our position as an industry leader and critical global communications platform. It underscores the significant transformation we’ve undergone as a company over the last 10 years. This truly is a testament to the trust our partners and customers have in our network, which is only going to continue growing as the deployment of the Iridium NEXT constellation nears completion.”

To date, Iridium has completed five launches of 10 Iridium NEXT satellites, all with SpaceX from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. A total of eight Iridium NEXT launches are currently planned with SpaceX delivering a total of 75 new satellites to orbit. In total, 81 satellites are being built, with 66 in the operational constellation, nine serving as on-orbit spares and six as ground spares.

Each launch strategically delivers new satellites to specific orbital planes to ensure the earliest possible completion of the constellation. The Iridium network comprises six polar orbiting planes, each containing 11 operational, crosslinked satellites, for a total of 66 in the active constellation. The 10 Iridium NEXT satellites launched were successfully delivered to orbital plane one where they will replace first generation satellites over the next 30 days. 

 Iridium NEXT will replace the company’s existing global constellation in one of the largest technology upgrades ever completed in space. It represents the evolution of critical communications infrastructure that governments and organisations worldwide rely on to drive business, enable connectivity, empower disaster relief efforts and more.