Last week's successful launch of the Iridium-4 launch with SpaceX caused quite the stir on the West Coast of the United States due to some stunning visuals in the evening sky, and people not knowing about the launch thought everything from an attack to UFOs. The good news is good news as all 10 of the Iridium NEXT satellites are functioning now and in the early stages of the testing and validating process.
With these 10 satellites now in orbit, Iridium NEXT now has more than half of the new constellation deployed, with 35 more satellites remaining. Those will be launched in the first half of 2018 via four more launches with SpaceX at a very rapid pace. Iridium will continue to bring new services like Aireon and Iridium Certus to life as a result of these missions.
Not only did this fourth launch mark the midway point of the Iridium NEXT launch campaign, it is also the first Iridium NEXT launch to use a flight-proven Falcon 9 rocket.
Scott Smith, chief operating officer at Iridium said that since Friday’s deployment, the team has only positive news to report. Similar to the first three launches, their team at the Satellite Network Operations Center immediately began running initial diagnostics as soon as the newly deployed satellites were captured by their network, just minutes after they were deployed. This testing process has been running smoothly and will continue for several weeks, after which nine of the new satellites will begin their individual ascents to an operational orbit, replacing original vehicles. They’ll also be sending the tenth satellite to an adjacent orbital plane where it will go into service by Summer 2018.
The Iridium constellation is comprised of six polar orbiting planes, each containing 11 operational crosslinked satellites, for a total of 66 satellites in the active constellation. This unique architecture creates a web of coverage around the Earth, enabling Iridium to provide real-time communications over the oceans and from even the most remote locations. Four additional Iridium NEXT launches are scheduled for the first half of 2018, bringing Iridium’s total to 75 new satellites in orbit, including nine spares.