Iridium NEXT gets going Written by Pierre Birck on April 28th, 2017

It was an emotional day – January 14th 2017 – as we watched our first 10 satellites in the Iridium Next constellation lift off from the pad at Vandenberg, marking the beginning of one of the biggest “tech refreshes” in history.

Not only did the new-borns pass their in-orbit tests with flying colours in under a month, but they performed even better than expected. In fact, several hours after the first bird was inserted onto its quasi polar mission orbit, we used it to call our customer’s CEO on an Iridium phone to break the good news.

The rest of the flock will follow during the next 2 months, providing Iridium services like telephony, SBD and OpenPort to our customer’s users. A further 65 satellites will be orbited over 18 months delivering unique features for Iridium NEXT including fully processed payloads, powerful inter-satellite links and active beam forming L-Band antennas.

Under the leadership of Thales Alenia Space, the operational teams in Leesburg, VA, are performing the world’s first truly global satellite constellation renewal on a satellite-persatellite basis, while keeping end-users unaffected by what’s going on only a few hundred kilometers above their heads.

Production is continuing full speed ahead (one satellite per week) at the integration facility of our partner Orbital ATK in Gilbert, AZ, where a team of 25 Thales Alenia Space engineers are located full time to facilitate the smooth delivery of the remaining satellites, knowing that 26 of them are already completed and stored on-ground.

This integration is the final stage in a huge supply chain which Thales Alenia Space has set up and managed since the program’s inception in 2010, involving more than 40 subcontractors
from over 10 different countries.

We still have a lot to achieve but once again, our teams at Thales Alenia Space are demonstrating their ability to successfully design, develop and test an end-to-end Telecom System with a LEO constellation and a full ground infrastructure with the Satellite control and Telecom Services Gateways.

At Thales Alenia Space we believe we know a thing or two about constellations. We have honed our expertise over many years, on complex programmes such as Globalstar 1, Globalstar 2, O3b and, now Iridium NEXT.

Each time, we have succeeded in incorporating state-of-theart-technologies to meet our customer’s needs with just the right mix of performance, cost and schedule. And we are proud that this experience has made us world leaders in the analysis, design, manufacturing and deployment of satellite constellations.

Now we are all looking forward to launching the next batch of 10 Iridium NEXT birds and getting them up and running to deliver those all-important services.

Communicated by Thales