Always good news when all goes perfectly at a launch such as Iridium Communications Inc.'s (NASDAQ: IRDM) announcement today that at 12:47:58pm PDT (19:47:58 UTC) SpaceX successfully launched five Iridium NEXT satellites from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The Iridium satellites were joined by the twin spacecraft for the NASA/German Research Center for Geosciences (GFZ) Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE-FO) mission, in a unique "rideshare" launch.
Shortly after deployment, Iridium confirmed successful communication with all five new satellites, formally bringing the total number of Iridium NEXT satellites in orbit to 55. This leaves just two more launches of 10 satellites each to complete this ambitious launch program. The Iridium NEXT constellation, featuring 66 interconnected low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites, will enable never before possible services like the AireonSM global aircraft tracking and surveillance system and its new broadband service, Iridium Certus.
Iridium NEXT is the Company's $3 billion, next-generation, mobile, global satellite network scheduled for completion this year. It will replace the existing network in one of the largest technology upgrades ever completed in space. Today's launch delivered all five Iridium NEXT satellites to orbital plane six where they will immediately begin preparations for the pre-operational testing and validation processes. The network is comprised of six polar orbiting planes, each hosting 11 satellites, blanketing the Earth with reliable satellite connectivity.
Iridium Certus is stated to be the world's first truly global broadband service, providing reliable connections for the aviation, maritime, land-mobile and Internet of Things (IoT) related industries, including essential safety services. And while Iridium is already relied upon by first responders, governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and a variety of industries worldwide, Iridium Certus will bring users an upgraded infrastructure using Iridium's resilient L-band spectrum, but with higher throughputs and faster speeds.
Iridium's safety services portfolio includes multiple capabilities including aircraft tracking and communications, emergency voice and data communications, personal tracking and remote monitoring applications. Specific to the maritime industry, Iridium has been recognized as the second-ever satellite communications provider for the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) and plans to begin providing service in early 2020. This is a critical, life-saving service for mariners, and the addition of Iridium will for the first time extend the reach of satellite-enabled GMDSS to even the most remote waterways.
"Our strong presence in the world of safety services is a testament to the unique benefits our network can enable," said Matt Desch, chief executive officer at Iridium. "With every successful launch, we are one step closer to Iridium NEXT being fully operational, which officially starts a new age of satellite connectivity. When it comes to safety communications, especially for those operating in the skies or out at sea, having built-in network redundancy and resiliency enabled by our satellite's crosslinks is paramount, especially during times of distress. We recognize this and feel that as the only network covering the entire planet, we have an inherent responsibility to constantly innovate for this critical arena."
To date, Iridium has completed six launches, all with SpaceX out of its west coast launch facility, Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. A total of eight Iridium NEXT launches are currently planned with SpaceX and will deliver 75 new satellites to orbit. In total, 81 satellites are being built, with 66 in the operational constellation, nine serving as on-orbit spares and six as ground spares.