Iridium NEXT satellites in Vandenberg for fourth launch

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An Iridium NEXT satellite
An Iridium NEXT satellite

Iridium Communications announced today that all 10 Iridium NEXT satellites for its fourth launch are now in processing at SpaceX’s west coast launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, USA.

This launch will mark the midway point of Iridium’s launch campaign with SpaceX, and is the first of two Iridium NEXT launches using “flight-proven” SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets.

Iridium-4 is currently scheduled for launch on December 22, 2017 at 5:32 pm PST, with a backup date of December 23rd.

Iridium says noteworthy for the fourth launch is that fact the same Falcon 9 rocket first stage that carried 10 Iridium NEXT satellites for its second launch in June 2017, will also carry this payload of 10 satellites.

This will make Iridium the first company in history to reuse the same rocket.

Upon arrival at the launch site, each Iridium NEXT satellite began a number of pre-launch processing steps, including mating to the dispenser, fuelling and encapsulation within the fairing.

The satellites were shipped two at a time, in specially-designed motion and temperature-controlled containers designed to maintain optimal environmental conditions.

“We’re approaching our halfway point on this journey, and with each launch, we gain more momentum,” said Iridium CEO Matt Desch.

“This launch will bring us to 40 satellites in space, which is more than half the number required for a full operational constellation.

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“It has been remarkable to witness the increased speed, capacity and throughput of our network as we continue to replace our original satellites with new Iridium NEXT satellites.”

The operational Iridium constellation now comprises 66 satellites divided into six polar orbiting planes with 11 satellites in each plane.

Destined for Iridium orbital plane two, nine of the 10 Iridium NEXT satellites deployed during this launch will immediately go into service following rigorous testing and validation.

The remaining satellite will undertake a nearly year-long journey to orbital plane one, where it will serve as a spare satellite.

To date, three Iridium NEXT launches carrying 10 satellites each have been completed. The fourth launch will bump the total number of new Iridium NEXT satellites in orbit to 40.

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.

The satellites will enable and introduce new services like the company’s next-generation communications platform, Iridium Certus, and the Aireon space-based ADS-B aircraft surveillance and flight tracking network.

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