Iridium Communications Inc. has announced that all five Iridium NEXT satellites for its sixth launch are in processing at SpaceX’s west coast launch site, Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. This launch will increase the total number of Iridium NEXT satellites in space to 55 and is the third Iridium launch to use a “flight-proven” SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Currently targeted for May 19, 2018 at 1:04:24 pm PDT (20:04:24 UTC), these Iridium NEXT satellites will be sharing this Falcon 9 with the twin spacecraft for the NASA/German Research Center for Geosciences (GFZ) Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE-FO) mission.
Upon arrival at the launch site, each Iridium NEXT satellite began a number of pre-launch processing steps. These include mating them to the dispenser, fueling, stacking the Iridium NEXT and GRACE-FO dispensers on the Falcon 9 payload adapter, and encapsulation within the fairing. Once launched, the rocket will first deploy the twin GRACE-FO spacecraft, after which the second stage will continue onward and deploy the five Iridium NEXT satellites.
The operational Iridium constellation is comprised of 66 satellites divided into six polar orbiting planes with 11 satellites in each plane. All five satellites for this launch will be deployed to orbital plane six. To date, five Iridium NEXT launches carrying 10 satellites each have been completed, and over half of the Iridium NEXT constellation has been activated. Iridium has contracted with SpaceX to deliver 75 Iridium NEXT satellites to orbit, 66 operational and nine on-orbit spares, through a series of eight launches.
Iridium NEXT is the company’s $3 billion next-generation mobile, global satellite network scheduled for completion in 2018. 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 upon to drive business, enable connectivity, empower disaster relief efforts and more. Iridium NEXT will enable and introduce new services like the company’s next-generation communications platform, Iridium CertusSM, and the AireonSM space-based ADS-B aircraft surveillance and flight tracking network.