Iridium Communications Inc. (NASDAQ: IRDM) has reached an agreement with SpaceX to launch as many as five of the company’s remaining, ground spare satellites from the Iridium® NEXT program, on a Falcon 9 rocket.
Known as Iridium-9, the launch is planned to take place at Vandenberg Space Force Base in mid-2023. Earlier this year, Iridium celebrated the 25th anniversary of the first launch in Iridium’s history, which also took place from Vandenberg on May 5, 1997. That first ever launch also carried five Iridium satellites to orbit on a Delta II rocket.
Iridium-9 will be Iridium’s second rideshare with SpaceX. Previously, SpaceX conducted eight Iridium launches between January 2017 and January 2019. These launches delivered 75 satellites to LEO as part of the Iridium NEXT campaign, replacing the company’s original satellite constellation.
Since completion of the launch campaign in 2019, Iridium has 66 operational satellites, nine on-orbit spares and six additional spares on the ground. Up to five of those six ground spares are planned for launch as part of Iridium-9. All satellites in the upgraded Iridium constellation were built by Thales Alenia Space and carry the Aireon® hosted payload, which provides truly global, real-time surveillance of aircraft around the world.
Since the completion of the upgraded Iridium network in early 2019, Iridium’s customer base grew by more than 730,000 subscribers in just three years and has more than 1.8 million today. With that subscriber growth came several new Iridium products and services, including the Iridium Certus® specialty broadband platform, Iridium’s Global Maritime Distress and Safety System, Iridium Global Line of Sight® service for uncrewed and autonomous systems, and more than 150 new Iridium narrowband and specialty broadband products brought to market by our partner ecosystem.
Iridium remains the only commercial satellite constellation with truly global coverage, offering weather-resilient L-band service from pole-to-pole. The constellation is divided into six polar orbiting planes that each include 11 operational crosslinked satellites. The satellites from Iridium-9 will be launched into a parking orbit, and after initial testing will be drifted to their assigned spare orbits.
“We have always said that when the right opportunity presented itself, we would launch many, if not all, of our remaining ground spares, and just such an opportunity came about,” said Iridium CEO, Matt Desch. “Our constellation is incredibly healthy; however, the spare satellites have no utility to us on the ground. We built extra satellites as an insurance policy, and with SpaceX’s stellar track record, we look forward to another successful launch, which will position us even better to replicate the longevity of our first constellation.”