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SpaceX launches first 10 of 70 Iridium NEXT satellites into space

Photo: SpaceX/Twitter

After a perfect launch and secondary booster recovery mission, SpaceX has gone on to deliver the first 10 of at 70 new Iridium NEXT satellites into Low Earth Orbit.

The Iridium NEXT satellites are set to replace its aging first generation network as communication demands have vastly increased over the past 20 years.

Over the next year, Iridium plans to launch 66 working satellites split across 6 equidistant planes across the globe running from pole to pole. There will be 6 additional satellites in each plane acting as spares should there be a malfunction with one of the functional satellites. Additionally Iridium will keep 9 extra units on Earth as spares, and will launch them individually should the need arise for them.

Iridium NEXT satellites are capable of high speed voice, data, and text transmissions services, as well as asset tracking for the aviation, maritime, government, business, and even personal sectors.

Each unit can transmit data on the L-band which is capable of speeds of up to 1.5 Mbps. The L-band is less susceptible to changes in the weather, providing for a more reliable transmissions to and from Earth.

Even though each unit can also transmit on the Ka-band at much higher speeds of about 8 Mbps, it will be used only for communication between ground-based gateways and adjacent NEXT satellites. Communications between the satellites and customers will be kept on the L-band.

Like the current first gen satellites, each NEXT satellite can communicate with 4 satellites around it, those being the two in frond and behind it within the same plane, and with the 2 adjacent units in planes next to each other. As a result, data can be relayed to and from ground stations or directly to customers’ devices across multiple satellites.

Artist rendition of an IRIDIUM NEXT satellite.

Each satellite also features an additional 50 kg secondary sensor developed by Aireon LLC, to provide Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADB-S) tracking services for continuous space-based monitoring and control of aircraft across the globe, even over oceans and remote regions where it is not currently possible.

Once this service goes live, air traffic controllers should have much better coverage of their respective airspace, and data accuracy on sites like FlightRadar24 and FlightAware should also increase.

As a result of all this, Iridium’s first generation satellites will slowly be decommissioned into a graveyard orbit, and as mentioned in my previous post, we most likely won’t see anymore Iridium flares due to the more efficient design of these newer NEXT satellites.

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