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Iridium NEXT satellites enter service

The NEXT satellites were launched in January 2017 The NEXT satellites were launched in January 2017

Iridium has announced that the first set of the company’s NEXT satellites, launched in January, have been integrated into its operational constellation and are now providing service to customers.

{mprestriction ids="1,2"}The new satellites went through a testing and validation process following the launch and before being brought into service, and should now offer better call quality and faster data speeds with increased capacity to existing Iridium customers that connect with the satellites as they pass overhead.

The testing and validation process included an assessment of each satellite’s performance against established metrics, and a formal acceptance process between Iridium and satellite manufacturer Thales, to ensure a smooth integration into Iridium’s existing network architecture.

Once testing is completed for each new satellite, a process of replacing the original satellite with a new NEXT satellite, known as a ‘slot swap’, is performed. To date, the team at Iridium’s Satellite Network Operations Centre (SNOC) has successfully completed three individual slot swaps, and two dual slot swaps. Two of the new satellites are currently drifting to their assigned orbital plane.

“To say that I am proud of the Iridium satellite network operations team is an understatement,” said Scott Smith, chief operating officer at Iridium.

“Conducting multiple slot swaps to replace a network of this magnitude is an incredible task, and only Iridium has the team and technical capacity to manage this project. We have been preparing for this process for years, and since first launch the team has worked non-stop to manage each manoeuvre to successfully integrate the new satellites into the active network.”

“We are thrilled to say that these new satellites are exceeding expectations and are already delivering faster speeds to our customers.”

The Iridium NEXT satellites are manufactured by Thales Alenia Space, the prime contractor, and assembled at Orbital ATK’s facility in Gilbert, Arizona.

“We are deploying the largest satellite constellation in the world, and it works. We met challenges that were unprecedented in the space sector, in terms of end-to-end system performance and production rate,” said Bertrand Maureau, executive vice president, telecommunication at Thales Alenia Space.

“Seeing the satellites exceed our expectations and be smoothly integrated into the existing network was one of the top highlights in our company’s history. Iridium NEXT is an extraordinary story, and we are both proud and greatly moved to have successfully passed this major milestone.”

“In our industry, when things go as planned and even exceed expectations, it’s an impressive achievement, and we are very excited to be looking forward to the second launch.”

Iridium has also announced the targeted launch date for the second payload of ten Iridium NEXT satellites as June 29, 2017. All planned Iridium NEXT launches will take place from SpaceX’s US west coast launch facility at Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB) in California, on Falcon 9 rockets.

The late-June launch will bring the total count to 20 Iridium NEXT satellites in space. A total of 75 satellites will be launched over eight launches, which are expected to be completed by mid-2018.{/mprestriction}

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