Matt Desch, CEO of Iridium, said: “We have been working endless hours for the last eight years to get to this day, and to finally be here with 10 Iridium Next satellites successfully launched into low-Earth orbit is a fulfilling moment. We are incredibly thankful for all of the hard work from our team, as well as our partners, to help us achieve this milestone.”
Iridium’s satellites are in low-earth orbit, less than 800km above the earth, so that they operate as a sort of cellular network in the sky – with the added benefit that latency is low compared with traditional telecoms satellites that orbit at around 35,000km up.
“Today Iridium launches a new era in the history of our company and a new era in space as we start to deliver the next-generation of satellite communications,” said Desch on Saturday.
The fleet of satellites will have a near-polar orbit so that they cover all the earth’s surface, including polar regions. Traditional geostationary satellites are out of range of the Arctic and Antarctic – meaning that ships and aircraft in those areas cannot use them.
Only 64 of the old fleet are still working, and 66 are needed for full coverage, which means Iridium customers were experiencing some service interruptions. The new satellites will gradually replace the old craft.
Launch of the first 10 satellites was delayed after a SpaceX launch explosion in September 2016. But Saturday’s operation was completely successful: the launch took place without delays and the stage-one booster was safely landed on a floating platform for re-use.
Satellites 11 to 20 are due for launch in April and the entire fleet, replacing the 1990s fleet, should be working by the middle of next year.