SpaceX has successfully launched the fifth set of 10 Iridium NEXT satellites, bringing the total now in orbit to 50.
The launch took place from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 14:13:51 UTC on March 30.
The company confirmed that all 10 new satellites have successfully communicated with the Iridium Satellite Network Operations Centre and are preparing to begin testing.
The Iridium NEXT satellite constellation is no more than half completed. Once fully deployed later in 2018, the constellation will cover the entire earth with its new capabilities, including the Iridium Certus L-band broadband service and Aireon global aircraft surveillance and tracking.
Shortly before launch, Iridium said its network had acheived a major milestone as it surpassed one million active subscribers.
Matt Desch, Chief Executive Officer at Iridium, said: “It’s a unique coincidence that we passed the one million subscriber mark right at this launch, and it’s particularly exciting because we’ve surpassed this milestone earlier than we had anticipated.
“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 and underscore 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.”
Aireon was also celebrating the launch. Once the payloads from the fifth launch come online, its space-based ADS-B system hosted on the satellites will have nearly global coverage with 15-minute or better update intervals.
This will assist airlines with meeting the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) regulations that require aircraft be equipped with an aircraft tracking system for those flights not tracked by air traffic control by the end of 2018.
With the Aireon service and access to the space-based ADS-B data, airlines can meet this directive set by regulators and safety organizations.
“We’re over two-thirds of the way there,” said Don Thoma, CEO, Aireon.
“And as we get closer to a fully operational system, thorough testing and validation is now under way with our customers and partners.”
Thoma continued: “Aireon is working closely with not only ANSPs, but partners like FlightAware, to ensure airlines have early access to this global data, ahead of regulations and requirements.
“Aireon will be able to help airlines meet these mandates, and upon completion of the constellation, update rates of a few seconds will be the service standard around the world.”
FlightAware and Aireon have worked together to create GlobalBeacon, which combines FlightAware’s data processing platform and web-interface with Aireon’s space-based ADS-B data.
Daniel Baker, Founder and CEO, FlightAware, said: “We are fusing Aireon data with FlightAware data to empower airlines and other aircraft operators with products that exceed GADSS recommendations for flight tracking.
“With the satellites from today’s successful launch, customers will be able to beta test coverage that meets the November 2018 requirement for aircraft tracking.”
To date, Iridium has now 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 delivers new satellites to specific orbital planes to ensure the earliest possible completion of the constellation.
The Iridium network is comprised of six polar orbiting planes, each containing 11 operational, crosslinked satellites.
It will replace the company’s existing global constellation in one of the largest technology upgrades ever completed in space.
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