Iridium Communications has reached an agreement with SpaceX to launch up to five of the company’s remaining ground spare satellites from the Iridium NEXT programme, on its Falcon 9 rocket.
Known as Iridium-9, the launch is planned to take place at Vandenberg Space Force Base in mid-2023.
Iridium-9 will be Iridium’s second rideshare with SpaceX. Previously, SpaceX conducted eight Iridium launches between January 2017 and January 2019. These launches delivered 75 satellites to LEO as part of the Iridium NEXT campaign, replacing the company’s original satellite constellation. Since the completion of the launch campaign in 2019, Iridium has had 66 operational satellites, nine on-orbit spares and six additional spares on the ground. Up to five of those six ground spares are planned for launch as part of Iridium-9.
All satellites in the upgraded Iridium constellation were built by Thales Alenia Space and carry the Aireon hosted payload, which provides global, real-time surveillance of aircraft around the world.
Commenting on the deal, Matt Desch, CEO of Iridium, said: “We have always said that when the right opportunity presented itself, we would launch many, if not all, of our remaining ground spares, and just such an opportunity came about. Our constellation is incredibly healthy; however, the spare satellites have no utility to us on the ground. We built extra satellites as an insurance policy, and with SpaceX’s stellar track record, we look forward to another successful launch, which will position us even better to replicate the longevity of our first constellation.”
Since the completion of the upgraded Iridium network in early 2019, Iridium’s customer base grew by more than 730,000 subscribers in just three years and has more than 1.8m today.
The satellites from Iridium-9 will be launched into a parking orbit, and after initial testing will be drifted to their assigned spare orbits.