Iridium now has 55 NEXT satellites in orbit after sixth launch

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

Iridium announced today that SpaceX has successfully launched five Iridium NEXT satellites from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Shortly after deployment, Iridium confirmed successful communication with all five new satellites, formally bringing the total number of Iridium NEXT satellites in orbit to 55.

This leaves just two more launches of 10 satellites each to complete this launch programme. The constellation, featuring 66 interconnected low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites, will enable services like the Aireon global aircraft tracking and surveillance system and its new broadband service, Iridium Certus.

Iridium Certus will be a global broadband service, providing connections for the aviation, maritime, land-mobile and Internet of Things (IoT) related industries, including essential safety services.

And while Iridium is already relied upon by first responders, governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and a variety of industries worldwide, Iridium Certus will also bring users an upgraded infrastructure using Iridium’s L-band spectrum, but with higher throughputs and faster speeds.

The company’s safety services portfolio includes multiple capabilities including aircraft tracking and communications, emergency voice and data communications, personal tracking and remote monitoring applications.

Matt Desch, Chief Executive Officer at Iridium said: “Our strong presence in the world of safety services is a testament to the unique benefits our network can enable.

“With every successful launch, we are one step closer to Iridium NEXT being fully operational, which officially starts a new age of satellite connectivity.

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“When it comes to safety communications, especially for those operating in the skies or out at sea, having built-in network redundancy and resiliency enabled by our satellite’s crosslinks is paramount, especially during times of distress.  “We recognize this and feel that as the only network covering the entire planet, we have an inherent responsibility to constantly innovate for this critical arena.”

This successful sixth launch comes just days after Aireon welcomed a new air navigation service provider (ANSP) to its ownership family, NATS of the United Kingdom.

Upon completion, the Aireon system will, for the first time, enable real-time air traffic surveillance across the entire planet for aircraft equipped with ADS-B.  ADS-B is the next generation surveillance technology that is a major enhancement over radar.

Several major ANSPs have mandated its equipage, including the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) and Europe by 2020. The Aireon system has placed network grade ADS-B receivers on each satellite which receives broadcasted aircraft data and transmits it to air traffic controllers or airline operations centres in mere seconds.

To date, there have been six launches, all with SpaceX out of its west coast launch facility, Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. A total of eight launches are currently planned with SpaceX and will deliver 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.

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