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Iridium NEXT launch takes total to 55 satellites

Iridium has confirmed that SpaceX has successfully completed its latest launch of five Iridium NEXT satellites from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, bringing the total number of NEXT satellites in orbit to 55.

{mprestriction ids="1,2"}The completed launch is another major boost for the company, coming a day after IMO confirmed that it had approved the Iridium’s application to become a GMDSS service provider, the culmination of a five-year process for the satellite operator.

Iridium says it has now confirmed successful communication with all five new satellites, leaving just two more launches of 10 satellites each to conclude its launch programme and complete the $3 billion Iridium NEXT constellation, which will feature 66 interconnected low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites.

The newly launched satellites were delivered to orbital plane six to begin preparations for pre-operational testing and validation processes. The network is comprised of six polar orbiting planes, each hosting 11 satellites.

“Three of the satellites from this launch will be going directly in to service in our sixth orbital plane, where the other two will serve as spares,” said Scott Smith, chief operating officer at Iridium.

“Once testing is completed in a few weeks, and they are put into service, three of the six Iridium orbital planes, 2, 4 and 6, will be comprised of all Iridium NEXT satellites. This is another tremendous milestone on the horizon as we move ever closer to completing this historic tech refresh.”

To date, Iridium has completed six launches, all with SpaceX out of its launch facility on the US west coast at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. A total of eight Iridium NEXT launches are currently planned with SpaceX to 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.

“Our strong presence in the world of safety services is a testament to the unique benefits our network can enable. With every successful launch, we are one step closer to Iridium NEXT being fully operational, which officially starts a new age of satellite connectivity,” said Matt Desch, chief executive officer at Iridium.

“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 recognise this and feel that, as the only network covering the entire planet, we have an inherent responsibility to constantly innovate for this critical arena.”{/mprestriction}

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