What is Iridium Messaging? Network Gets Boost from SpaceX (Download PDF)

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10 more satellites for Iridium’s commercial communications network flew into orbit Friday aboard Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, raising total number of upgraded Iridium spacecraft launched to 50 & clearing way for lift-off of SpaceX supply ship Monday from Cape Canaveral to International Space Station.

Image of Iridium Messaging

Image of Iridium Messaging

Image of Iridium Messaging

Details of Iridium’s Satellites

  • All 10 satellites - each w/sophisticated L-band & Ka-band radios & antennas, plus aircraft & ship tracking equipment - were healthy following Friday’s launch.
  • Spacecraft will replace 10 aging satellites in Iridium’s network, which recently surpassed million subscribers.
  • Iridium kicked off 2nd half of its 8-launch campaign w/SpaceX. 4 previous missions - in January, June, October & December 2017 -each delivered 10 Iridium Next satellites to orbit.
  • Iridium ordered 81 new satellites from Thales Alenia Space/Orbital ATK industrial team to refresh company’s communications fleet, which provides message, data & voice communications worldwide.
  • Iridium’s old satellites launched in late 1990s & early 2000s.

Modernized Satellites for Iridium

  • Modernized satellites - centrepiece of $3 billion upgrade investment - will ensure Iridium’s subscribers have uninterrupted telephone service, even outside of cellular range, & enable higher-speed applications, such as broadband connectivity for video & data transmissions.
  • SpaceX is under contract to launch 75 of satellites. 66 are needed for Iridium’s full network, & another 9 will serve as spares.
  • 6 remaining satellites will remain on ground for now for potential launch to replenish constellation in future.
  • Iridium expects 10 satellites launched Friday to boost themselves into higher orbits around 484 miles (780 kilometers) in altitude over next few weeks.
  • They will take positions near old satellites, allowing ground controllers to switch network to upgraded spacecraft one-by-one over next 30 days.
  • More than half of its 66-satellite network is now populated w/Iridium Next satellites.

What is Iridium?

Iridium offers satellite connection services:

  • Messaging service is two-way, allowing Iridium users to send, receive, and respond to messages that are stored for up to seven days on the network

  • New broadband service powered by Iridium Next satellites, known as Iridium Certus, will begin commercial operations in mid-2018.

  • L-band broadband service will reach users on land, at sea & in air, & testing of ground terminals is well underway.

  • Each Iridium Next satellite hosts aircraft tracking transceiver built by Harris Corp. Air traffic monitoring project, led by Iridium affiliate named Aireon, will become operational once at least 66 Iridium Next spacecraft are in space.

  • 10 spacecraft carry ship tracking.

  • Iridium flares, popular phenomena for sky-watchers over last 20 years, will end when last of old satellites is retired. Flares are predictable to 2nd & satellite briefly becomes one of brightest objects in night sky. Sky-watching apps & websites can provide times of upcoming Iridium flares anywhere in world. Last predictable Iridium flare will likely occur in late 2018 or early 2019.

- Published/Last Modified on: August 17, 2018

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