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First Iridium NEXT launch successfully completed

Ten Iridium NEXT satellites were successfully launched on board a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California Ten Iridium NEXT satellites were successfully launched on board a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California

Iridium has completed the successful launch of its first ten Iridium NEXT satellites, with the satellites delivered into low-Earth orbit by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on January 14.

{mprestriction ids="1,2"}The completion of the mission will come as a relief to the satellite operator, with a series of delays causing the introduction of the new satellites to be postponed, stemming from an explosion of a SpaceX rocket in September 2016 which led to the launch programme being suspended pending an investigation.

That investigation was completed in December 2016, with Iridium first in line for the Falcon 9’s return to flight.

Iridium NEXT is the company’s next-generation satellite constellation, which will completely replace its existing network of low-Earth orbit satellites over the course of the next 18 months of the scheduled launch series, while also delivering much improved communications capabilities via a new broadband service called Iridium Certus.

The first ten Iridium NEXT satellites have now been delivered to a 625km temporary parking orbit where they will be tested and exercised by Iridium over the coming weeks.

Upon meeting testing and validation requirements, the satellites will then be moved into their 780km operational orbit to be integrated with the current network and begin providing service to customers, as backward compatibility with the existing satellite technology has been built into the design of the new generation.

One-by-one, the new satellites will be positioned near a current generation satellite, each moving at approximately 17,000 miles per hour as testing begins. Iridium’s inter-satellite communication links from nearby satellites will be repositioned to point to the new Iridium NEXT satellite as it prepares to take over service. Existing satellites will eventually be de-boosted and de-orbited.

“Today Iridium launches a new era in the history of our company and a new era in space as we start to deliver the next generation of satellite communications,” said Matt Desch, chief executive officer of Iridium.

“We have been working endless hours for the last eight years to get to this day, and to finally be here with ten Iridium NEXT satellites successfully launched into low-Earth orbit is a fulfilling moment.  We are incredibly thankful for all of the hard work from our team, as well as our partners, to help us achieve this milestone.”

Iridium has partnered with SpaceX for the launch of 70 Iridium NEXT satellites on its Falcon 9 rocket via a series of seven launches, deploying ten satellites at a time. The second Iridium NEXT launch will be scheduled after this first round of testing is completed, in April, with the entire Iridium NEXT network scheduled to be completed by mid-2018.

“We are very proud to be chosen as the launch provider for the entire Iridium NEXT programme and are excited about (this) successful first launch,” said Gwynne Shotwell, president of SpaceX.

“Iridium was one of SpaceX’s first customers, and working alongside them to deliver one of the largest aerospace projects underway is an exciting moment for us at SpaceX.”{/mprestriction}

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