The final 10 Iridium NEXT satellites have been launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The launch concludes an 8-launch deal that was signed in 2010 to deploy a total of 75 next-generation communication satellites.
The Falcon 9 carrying the next-generation communication satellites was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base at 15:31 UTC (07:32 PST). Following the launch and first stage separation, the rocket’s upper stage ignited successfully and performed a 5-minute burn. The upper stage will now coast for approximately 40 minutes. Once complete, the Falcon 9 upper stage will perform a short second burn before beginning to deploy the 10 Iridium Next satellites at regular intervals.
The Falcon 9 first stage booster utilised for this afternoon’s launch (serial number B1049) was flight proven and had previously launched the Telstar 18V / Apstar-5C payload on September 10, 2018. The booster was successfully recovered for the second time after it touched down on the company’s Just Read the Instructions droneship floating in the Pacific Ocean.
Iridium signed the eight-launch Iridium Next deal with SpaceX in June 2010. At the time, the US$492 million contract with SpaceX was the largest commercial launch deal in history. The first batch of ten Iridium NEXT satellites was launched on January 14, 2017. An additional five 10-satellite launches were carried out from 2017 to the end of 2018 with a single 5-satellite launch on May 22, 2018.
Once the final 10 satellites are successfully deployed, Iridium’s global second-generation NEXT communications network will be complete. The constellation utilizes 66 actives satellites with the addition 9 in orbit on standby. An additional six spare satellites remain on the ground to be launched in the event that they are needed.