SpaceX Delivers 10 Iridium NEXT
Satellites to LEO
January 14, 2019
flight-proven SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched from Vandenberg Air Force
Base and delivered the final 10 Iridium NEXT satellites to low earth
orbit (LEO). All 10 satellites have successfully communicated with the
Iridium Satellite Network Operations Center and are preparing to undergo
initial on-orbit testing. This was the eighth and final launch for
Iridium's historic launch campaign with SpaceX, seeing a total of 75 new
satellites deployed over less than two years.
Iridium has invested approximately $3 billion to replace its original
satellite system with a new, state-of-the-art network, ushering in an
era of financial and technological transformation for the company. At
the core of this transformation is the dramatic change in cash flows as
construction capital expenses end and a decade or longer "capex holiday"
allows significant cash generation from existing and new services. These
include Iridium CertusSM, which will provide the world's fastest and
only truly global specialty L-band broadband connectivity, enabling
highly mobile internet access using smaller and more cost-effective
terminals, and the AireonSM aircraft surveillance system, extending
real-time visibility of aircraft for air traffic controllers and
airlines to the entire planet for the first time.
"It has been an honor to deliver 75
new Iridium NEXT satellites to orbit. Matt and the entire Iridium NEXT
team have been incredible to work with," said Gwynne Shotwell, President
and Chief Operating Officer at SpaceX. "On behalf of all of our
employees, congratulations to Iridium on achieving this incredible
The Iridium satellite constellation is unlike any other in orbit and is
the only communications network with pole-to-pole coverage of the entire
planet. It is comprised of six polar orbiting planes, each containing 11
crosslinked satellites totaling 66 in the operational constellation,
creating a web of coverage around the Earth. The 10 Iridium NEXT
satellites launched as part of this final mission were deployed to
orbital plane three. Since the launches began, the constellation has
been undergoing a one-for-one replacement, new satellite for old,
achieved through a highly choreographed in-space maneuver known as a
"There are few words to describe what it feels like to complete a vision
started many years ago when I joined the company and what it means for
Iridium and our future," said Iridium CEO Matt Desch. "Our gratitude to
SpaceX for helping bring this new generation of satellites to orbit, so
flawlessly every time is beyond words. However, for Iridium, we're not
quite across the finish line yet, as there is still some work to do to
put these satellites into operation. Once that's complete, our future
will be in place. I'm just incredibly proud of our team right now."
date, new satellites make up 60 of the 66 satellites in operation, with
the final six scheduled for activation in the coming weeks from today's
launch. Iridium NEXT satellites were designed by Thales Alenia Space,
which serves as system prime contractor, and are being integrated by
Thales' subcontractor, Northrop Grumman. The production process features
an 18-station, state-of-the-art assembly line system for all 81 Iridium
NEXT satellites being built.
"Totally deployed, Iridium NEXT is now arguably the world's highest
performance and most sophisticated constellation which represents
today's state of the art in terms of technology and flexibility and
Thales Alenia Space is so proud for having risen to this huge challenge.
I would like to thank Iridium for having placed its trust in us, and
thank everybody at my company, at Iridium and at our partners for having
worked as "One Team," all with the sole objective of delivering the
constellation to orbit as quickly as possible, while guaranteeing
top-flight quality," declared Jean Loïc Galle, CEO of Thales Alenia
In total, 81 satellites are being built with 75 successfully launched.
Nine of the satellites launched will serve as on-orbit spares, and the
remaining six will be ground spares.