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Satnews Daily
July 26th, 2018

Iridium® NEXT's Next-to-Last Batch of Satellites for the Constellation are Launched

This has been a marathon, not a sprint, and the end is in sight, after a successful launch today of the seventh batch of Iridium NEXT satellites built by Thales Alenia Space.

The satellites were successfully launched by SpaceX from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California making today's the seventh launch for the Iridium NEXT program that further solidifies the company’s reputation for expertise as prime contractor for sophisticated satellite communications (SATCOM) systems. Each Iridium NEXT satellite is equipped with star tracker sensors provided by Leonardo to guarantee attitude determination and control. 

“Iridium is replacing its existing constellation of 66 low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites by sending 75 Iridium NEXT satellites into space, including spares. 65 Iridium NEXT satellites are now in orbit. Overall System Acceptance has been confirmed by Iridium. The last launch of 10 Iridium NEXT satellites is nearing now. I am very pleased to confirm that everything is on track to meet Thales Alenia Space’s objective, namely to launch all 75 Iridium NEXT LEO satellites in 2018,” declared Denis Allard, Iridium NEXT Vice President for Thales Alenia Space. 

Thales Alenia Space, the system prime contractor for the Iridium NEXT program, is in charge of engineering, integration, and in-orbit validation of all 81 Iridium NEXT satellites, comprising 66 operational satellites, the remaining 15 satellites will serve as in-orbit and ground spares.

The satellites are manufactured in a production line process by Thales Alenia Space’s subcontractor Northrop Grumman Corporation (formerly known as Orbital ATK), at its Satellite Manufacturing Facility in Gilbert, Arizona, under the supervision of a dedicated local Thales Alenia Space and Iridium team. Launch and Early Operations (LEOP) and In Orbit Tests are performed by Thales Alenia Space in coordination with Iridium, from Iridium’s Satellite Network Operation Center (SNOC) in Leesburg, Virginia. 

The Iridium NEXT constellation will offer global connectivity thanks to 66 interconnected satellites at an altitude of 780 km, along with nine spares in parking orbits and six more spare satellites on the ground. This global network provides unrivaled capabilities for communications on the move (individuals, land vehicles, aircraft and ships), and ensures fully global coverage, including the poles and over the ocean. 

Thanks to its global coverage and independent operation, not requiring any ground infrastructure, Iridium’s network provides vital assistance under very challenging conditions, such as in isolated areas, during natural disasters or during conflicts, to name a few. Its independence from local ground infrastructure delivers secure communications, including protection against intrusion and hacking. 

A joint venture between Thales (67 percent) and Leonardo (33 percent), Thales Alenia Space also teams up with Telespazio to form the parent companies’ Space Alliance, which offers a complete range of services and solutions.