SpaceX confirms successful launch of 10 Iridium NEXT satellites

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An artist's impression of an Iridium NEXT satellite.
An artist’s impression of an Iridium NEXT satellite.

Iridium Communications has announced the successful third launch and deployment of its latest batch of 10 Iridium NEXT satellites.

The satellites were delivered into low-Earth orbit approximately one hour after a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 5:37 a.m. PDT.

With two successful launches having already been completed this year, this third batch of 10 satellites brings the total number of Iridium NEXT satellites in orbit to 30, nearly half the amount required for a full Iridium NEXT operational constellation.

Iridium NEXT

While already able to deliver fully global communications coverage, the company says the Iridium constellation is undergoing a technological transformation.

At the centre of this transformation are three new capabilities: Iridium Certus, the company’s new L-band broadband service; Aireon’s space-based automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) hosted-payload, that will provide real-time tracking and surveillance of all ADS-B equipped aircraft globally; and Harris Corporation and exactEarth’s ship tracking service.

“Each successful launch brings us one step closer to both a technological and financial transformation,” said Iridium CEO, Matt Desch.

“For us and our partners, Iridium NEXT is an engine for innovation, and services like these are just the start. Moreover, we’re on track to completion in 2018.”

Iridium NEXT is the company’s next-generation satellite constellation, replacing and enhancing its existing network of interconnected, low-Earth orbit satellites spanning the entire globe — the largest commercial satellite constellation in space.

The constellation’s architecture features interconnected satellites that form a web of coverage around the earth, enabling connectivity over the oceans, in the poles and other remote areas.

Aireon ADS-B

Aireon space-based ADS-BThis was also good news for Aireon, which is building a global space-based ADS reception system.

The Aireon payloads from the first two launches, completed on January 14th and June 25th of 2017, have demonstrated the capability to identify aircraft all over world, resulting in more than six billion ADS-B position reports being received in just seven months.

Besides highly-accurate position reports from commercial aircraft, the system has generated position reports from helicopters, general aviation aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and surface vehicles, such as airport maintenance vehicles.

Many Aireon customers and partners, including NAV CANADA, Enav, Naviair, the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA), South Africa’s Air Traffic and Navigation Services (ATNS) and FlightAware, have been connected to the system in preparation for live operations in 2018.

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Initial results of these integrations show an average update of position data for ADS-B equipped aircraft approximately every five seconds.

This will enable Aireon to provide radar-like position information to air traffic controllers in 100 percent of their airspace.

It says that far surpasses current coverage capabilities, where 70-plus percent of the world, particularly oceanic airspace, averages 10-minute to 18-minute aircraft position updates.

“Air traffic surveillance over the oceans is a dramatic change to the current operating environment. Knowing, in real time, where an aircraft is flying over 500 miles per hour makes a big difference to the ability of air traffic controllers to efficiently and safely manage their airspace,” said Aireon Chief Technology Officer and Vice President of Engineering, Vinny Capezzuto.

“The industry has always maintained a safety-first mindset, and this new data will further contribute to key industry goals such as reducing risk, increasing efficiency and improving environmental sustainability due to reduced fuel consumption.

“With 10 more satellites now in-orbit and going directly into service after the testing and validation phase, we are that much closer to providing this world-changing service.”

In September of 2016, Aireon and FlightAware announced a partnership and the launch of GlobalBeacon, a solution that will provide airlines with 100 percent global flight tracking.

GlobalBeacon – GADSS

GlobalBeacon is designed to ensure airlines are in compliance with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Global Aeronautical Distress Safety System (GADSS) recommendations and requirements.

“Even with only a partial constellation in orbit, we’ve been able to start tracking flights that nobody has been able to fully track before,” said FlightAware CEO, Daniel Baker.

“Each and every successful launch of Iridium NEXT satellites makes us more excited to be the first and only flight tracking service to offer 100% global coverage to airline customers and other partners like SITAONAIR.

“Through our partnership with Aireon, we will be able to provide an unprecedented level of visibility and enable operators unparalleled control of their fleet.”

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