Iridium Communications Inc. stated today that it has secured a deal with SpaceX to use its Falcon 9 rocket to launch up to five of the company’s last remaining ground-spare satellites from the Iridium NEXT program; making their ninth SpaceX launch. The launch, known as Iridium-9, is scheduled to occur at Vandenberg Space Force Base in the middle of 2023. Iridium marked the 25th anniversary of its first launch, which likewise occurred from Vandenberg on May 5, 1997, earlier this year. A Delta II rocket used in that inaugural launch also placed five Iridium satellites in orbit.
The second rideshare between Iridium and SpaceX will be Iridium-9 and will be the ninth SpaceX launch. Eight Iridium launches were previously carried out by SpaceX between January 2017 and January 2019. As part of the Iridium NEXT program, these flights transported 75 satellites to LEO, replacing the company’s initial satellite constellation. Iridium has 66 active satellites since the launch campaign’s conclusion in 2019, nine spares in orbit, and six more spares on the ground. Of those six ground spares, Iridium-9 is expected to launch up to five of them. All of the enhanced Iridium constellation’s satellites were made by Thales Alenia Space, and they all have the Aireon hosted payload, which offers truly worldwide, real-time airplane surveillance.
“We have always said that when the right opportunity presented itself, we would launch many, if not all, of our remaining ground spares, and just such an opportunity came about,” said Iridium CEO Matt Desch. “Our constellation is incredibly healthy; however, the spare satellites have no utility to us on the ground. We built extra satellites as an insurance policy, and with SpaceX’s stellar track record, we look forward to another successful launch, which will position us even better to replicate the longevity of our first constellation.”
The number of Iridium customers has increased by more than 730,000 subscribers in just three years and now exceeds 1.8 million since the enhanced Iridium network was fully operational in early 2019. The Iridium Certus specialty broadband platform, the Iridium Global Maritime Distress and Safety System, the Iridium Global Line of Sight service for uncrewed and autonomous systems, and over 150 new Iridium narrowband and specialty broadband products introduced to market by our partner ecosystem all came along with that subscriber growth.
The only commercial satellite constellation that provides completely worldwide coverage and weather-resistant L-band service from pole to pole is Iridium. Six polar orbital planes, each containing 11 operational crosslinked satellites, make up the constellation. After initial testing, the Iridium-9 satellites, being the ninth SpaceX launch will be drifted to their designated spare orbits. The satellites will be launched into a parking orbit.
Hassin, J. (2022, September 8). Iridium announces ninth spacex launch. Iridium Satellite Communications. Retrieved September 12, 2022, from https://investor.iridium.com/2022-09-08-Iridium-Announces-Ninth-SpaceX-Launch