Iridium Launch of Next Satellites Delayed 8 Weeks at Vandenberg Air Force Base
Backlog of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket launches blamed for postponing mission from planned April date
Iridium Communications Inc. announced an eight-week delay for the next 10 second-generation spacecraft.
Once planned for mid-April, the date slipped due to a backlog for the Space Exploration Technologies rocket following a Sept. 1 anomaly during an on-pad test in Florida.
After the June missions, SpaceX is targeting six subsequent Iridium Next launches at approximately two-month intervals, Iridium officials said.
“After such a successful first launch, we are eager to maintain the momentum until our network is completed,” said Matt Desch, Iridium’s CEO. “Even with this eight-week shift, SpaceX’s targeted schedule completes our constellation in mid-2018.”
The announcement came as the company successfully connected the first Iridium Next satellite via its crosslinks into its global low-Earth orbit constellation.
The new satellite is expected to begin providing service to Iridium customers in the coming days, signaling a major milestone for the Iridium Next program.
With a constellation of spacecraft orbiting Earth, Iridium provides mobile voice and data satellite communication anywhere on the globe.
Iridium officials said the testing and validation phase is ahead of schedule and the satellites are working well.
“Our team at our Satellite Network Operations Center has been working around-the-clock to confirm the health and performance of these new satellites,” said Scott Smith, Iridium’s chief operating officer.
“Since their perfect orbit injection and deployment by SpaceX, our satellite testing process has progressed ahead of schedule, a testament to the rigorous development program they’ve undergone on the ground.”
In all, Iridium plans eight missions aboard SpaceX rockets, including the recently announced satellite rideshare with the joint NASA-German Research Center for Geosciences mission called Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On, or GRACE-FO.
On Jan. 31, Iridium said the twin satellites of the NASA/GFZ mission will share a rocket ride with the commercial communication craft although they will be deployed into a separate low-Earth orbit.
This will mark the first rideshare deal for Iridium, officials noted, adding that the company will be able to launch five additional satellites for its next-generation global satellite network.
The rideshare mission is expected to launch from Vandenberg in early 2018.
“This is a very smart way to get additional Iridium NEXT satellites into orbit,” Desch said. “This launch provides added resiliency to our network for not much more than we had planned originally to launch 72 satellites, including two with Kosmotras.”
Iridium initially hired the International Space Company Kosmotras to launch some satellites aboard the Dnepr rocket, until troubled relations between Ukraine and Russia essentially grounded the rocket.
In total, Iridium currently has plans to launch 75 Iridium Next satellites from Vandenberg — 66 to serve as operational satellites and nine as on-orbit spares.
The SpaceX backlog lessened by one with the successful launch from Florida of a Falcon rocket on Sunday from Florida.