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Iridium eager to complete upgraded network with Falcon 9 start Friday – Spaceflight Now

Artist's concept for Iridium Next satellites that provide coverage of aircraft. Credit: Aireon The launch of 10 more upgraded spacecraft…

Artist’s concept for Iridium Next satellites that provide coverage of aircraft. Credit: Aireon

The launch of 10 more upgraded spacecraft aboard a space barge 9 rocket Friday will complete the expansion of Iridium’s modern $ 3 billion global communications network set up for the debut of new broadband and aircraft tracking services in the coming months.

With Friday’s launch, SpaceX and Iridium have teamed up for the launch of 75 payloads of eight Falcon 9 flights since January 2017, giving Iridium a complete complement to new spacecraft to fully replace and upgrade its aging voice and data network.

The 229-foot 70-meter Falcon 9 rocket, powered by a re-used first-stage booster that previously flew in September from Cape Canaveral, is set for liftoff at 07:31:33 PST (10: 31:33 EST; 1531 : 33 GMT) Friday from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. The two-stage rocket will distribute the 10 satellites – built by partnerships by Thales Alenia Space and Northrop Grumman Innovations Systems – one at a time over a 15-minute period about one hour after the liftoff.

SpaceX plans to land Falcon 9’s first stage again after Friday’s launch on a drone ship placed the Pacific Ocean a few hundred miles south of Vandenberg. The launch company’s network-mounted payload carrier, Steven, is not expected to try to catch Falcon 9’s nightwear Friday.

Matt Desch, Iridium’s chief executive officer, told reporters before the launch that the addition of 10 more satellites to the network – enough to complete the total replacement of the constellation – is “a big deal”.

Iridium already has 65 new generation “Iridium Next” satellites in orbit, and all are “happy and healthy” Desch said. The company’s communications network operates on 66 active satellites scattered among six orbit plans, plus spare parts, with inter-radio radio links to relay and data traffic without connecting via ground stations on earth.

Iridium’s first generation “Block 1” satellites, built by Lockheed Martin, were launched from 1997 to 2002 and designed for seven-year missions. The majority of the fleet far exceeded the longevity and the new satellites have a dual mission to replace the company’s aging and outdated 1990s constellation and as a vehicle to introduce new services to expand beyond Iridium’s bread and butter phone and relay relay features.

The satellites set for the launch Friday will enter the Iridium fleet’s Plane 3 and the liftoff is timed to the other with an instant launch window to just place the payload in the right path.

One of the new Iridium services, called Iridium Certus, will allow customers to send and receive higher bandwidth bands, including high-resolution video and internet connections. Designed for ships, aircraft and other traveling users, Iridium Certus will provide customers in Iridium up to 1.4 megabits per second of the L-band connection, up from 128 kilobits per second available with the previous generation of satellites .

Each Iridium Next Satellite is also hosting host radio receivers for Aireon, a branch of Iridium, established in collaboration with flight control authorities in Europe and Canada. The Aireon instrument will track air traffic worldwide, including aircraft traveling outside the area of ​​conventional terrestrial radars.

Iridium’s next satellites were connected to their vending machines in a clean room at the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California before they fit the Falcon 9 rocket. Credit: Iridium

“We broke the foundation of Iridium Next back in 2007 and we started seriously in about 2010. It was a lot of excitement when our first launch finally occurred two years ago on January 14, 2017, which was fantastic and very important. But our last launch … is by far the most important milestone for everyone. “Desch said.

“I’m sure you can imagine some of the reasons for that,” he continued. “The completion of a $ 3 billion update, the new services we can launch as Iridium Certus broadband, more efficient IoT (Internet of Things) and Aireon, the financial transformation it will allow for Iridium. But for me, this launch symbolizes something More importantly, it finally means to draw the dream that the founders of this system had more than 30 years ago, which means that our network will ultimately achieve the economic independence and security that makes a satellite network operator mature and successful and creates many opportunities for We as we have never had before. This is a great thing for our customers, our partners and sincerely, for the industry itself. “

Original backwards by Motorola, Iridium was a pioneer in the space and communications industry and fielded the first commercial satellite fleet of its size in orbit. But Iridium soon declared bankruptcy after launching its first set of satellites. A new company formed to take over Iridium’s assets, including the satellites already in space, with a new business strategy after high prices and weak demand, judged the original Iridium concept.

Iridium now counts over one million subscribers on its customer list, and the US Department of Defense is one of the company’s core customers, along with aviation and shipping operators, land transport and users of mining, forestry and oil and gas industries.

“What’s next for Iridium Next? That answer is a lot,” says Desch. “The first new service we will introduce is our special L-band broadband service labeled as Iridium Certus. The name Certus is actually Latin and it means reliable, definite, safe and secure, all adjectives we believe well define Iridium and our new unique broadband service.

“We spent all of 2018 testing and got Iridium Certus ready for the market, and the data trials are almost complete. In fact, they are complete for some of our service providers, who are already starting to offer their maritime customers before the official commercial launch. the official launch of Iridium Certus is very imminent. “

Desch said the Iridium Certus offer will provide broadband communications for the safety of maritime crews and pilots. In a conference call with reporters last week, he suggested that Iridium’s new L-band broadband service would not compete with high throughput geostationary satellites and planned “mega-constellations” of hundreds or thousands of low-ground spacecraft in Ka-band and Ku-band. focused on the individual consumer market.

“Iridium Certus applies to the industry’s vertical, from shipping and aviation to land mobile, and on the Internet of things,” says Desch. “We focus the service on safety requirements and other important special broadband programs. We believe that this is a $ 700 million market today, that we come in, mainly served by a satellite operator (Inmarsat), and we believe our service will be superior in every way. “

for when a type of network that relays data, measurements and other signals between many objects around the world, ranging from distant weather bends to critical road, sea or air transport.

“Iridium Certus is not designed to compete with high-throughput satellite mega-constellations, or anyone using Ka, Ku or other bands,” Desch said. “Iridium Certus is complementary. For example, in maritime applications today, L-band terminals are often installed as a companion to VSAT (Ku or Ka band) terminals on board for coverage and security purposes.”

To their advantage, L -band communication usually requires a smaller earth receiver than Ku or Ka bands, and the L-band is less susceptible to interference from rain, fog and storms, making it ideal for critical services. But the Ku and Ka band offer higher bandwidth than the L band.

“In aviation applications, Iridium Certus will be in the cockpit that provides operational and safety communication at optimal levels, while the Ka and Ku band will be in the cab for anyone to use WiFi for entertainment services,” says Desch.

The Falcon 9 rocket launched on SpaceX’s eighth mission for Iridium stands at Space Launch Complex 4-East at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. Credit: SpaceX

Like SpaceX’s earlier launches for Iridium, the Falcon 9 rocket program is programmed to place the new satellites in a polar orbit around 388 miles (625 kilometers) across the Earth.

Each of the 1,896 pounds (860 kilograms) of Iridium Next satellites will use their own thrusters to climb into a higher 476-kilometer (780-kilometer) orbit, where six of the new spacecraft will rendezvous with the last of the old Block 1 satellites. Earth controllers at Iridium’s Network Operations Center in Leesburg, Virginia, will immediately switch traffic from the old satellite to the new boat without interruption to commercial service. In one procedure, the company calls a “slot swap”.

Launch of the other four satellites Friday is intended to be spare parts in the Iridium fleet.

“This will give the total number of new Iridium satellites in circulation to 75 and after a careful testing and validation process lasting several weeks, we will officially complete our new constellation,” Desch said.

Iridium ordered 81 Iridium Next satellites from the Thales Alenia Space / Northrop Grumman team. Desch said the remaining six satellites that have not yet been launched will remain in a ready state on the ground and could be launched in the next few years to regain the constellation.

The engineers deactivate Iridium’s recurring satellites when the new relay stations arrive in orbit. Most of the old satellites have been operated from the orbit to fall back to the Earth’s atmosphere, and all will undergo a procedure called “passivation”, where their batteries and fuel tanks are drained, rendering them inert and reducing the risk of explosion in the future.

Iridium flares, a popular phenomenon of celestial viewers over the past 20 years, will end when the last of the old satellites are retired. The Lockheed Martin-built Iridium satellites have silver-coated Teflon antennas that behave reflecting and reflecting the sunlight down to earth just before sunrise and just after sunset.

The spots are predictable – to the other – and the satellite is briefly one of the brightest objects in the night sky. Sky-watching devices and websites can provide the times for upcoming Iridium spots anywhere in the world.

The Iridium Next satellites designed by Thales Alenia Space have another antenna shape that does not give rise to stains.

“It’s a sad time for the global flare-watching community,” said Desch. “It will be gone.”

Aireon preps for air navigation trials in the North Atlantic

The flight tracking service managed by Aireon will also take a big step towards starting operations with Friday launch.

Aireon says the service, which uses Harris Corp.-based receivers to collect position data for aircraft, will ensure that air traffic controllers know where aircraft worldwide, reducing blind spots in busy transoceanic roads, improving safety and fuel efficiency.

The aeronautical authorities in Canada, Ireland, Italy, Denmark and the United Kingdom are part of the Aireon joint venture with Iridium, and air traffic management organizations in Africa, the United States and the rest of Europe are also preparing to use the system.

“With the complete Iridium Next constellation, Aireon will have real-time air monitoring data in comparison to the ground system, but for the whole planet, I Ncluding over oceans and remote areas where it has never existed before,” says Don Thoma, Aireon’s CEO.

Aireon The system works by gathering position data transmitted by aircraft equipped with ADS-B technology.The automatic monitoring broadcast or ADS-B technology allows an aircraft to determine its location via satellite navigation and immediately transmit the position.

It decreases Air traffic controller confidence in obsolete track radars to follow aircraft movements, but ADS-B receivers on the ground have the same limitations as radars – they do not allow uninterrupted tracking of aircraft over oceans and other remote regions.

When aircraft fly out of the radar area, pilots normally keep a certain course and height, which is certain models 30 to 100 mil (about 50-150 kilometers) of separation between aircraft for safety purposes. With real-time comprehensive monitoring, these requirements can be switched off.

The Aireon receivers of each Iridium Next satellite are designed to collect the same ADS-B signals already transmitted by most aircraft. US and European regulators have demanded that all commercial passenger aircraft be equipped with ADS-B technology by 2020.

“This was the driving force behind the creation of Aireon,” Thoma said. “It has been clear for many years that a complete and truly global aircraft monitoring system is a must, not only for the efficiency of air traffic control but for the safety of anyone traveling by air.”

“Aireon will support key security enhancements, including improved control of the situation, reduction of aircraft clearance, and elimination of security deficiencies due to lack of real-time monitoring,” says Thoma. “It will reduce the response time of response time to normal situations, such as weather deviations or pilot navigation errors , and it will of course improve search and rescue time.

“The use of Aireon will improve air traffic by optimizing flight paths and improved traffic flows. Real-time monitoring will allow airlines to plan and fly more direct routes and save significant amounts of fuel.”

According to Thoma, certification by Aireon The system is complete in March, enabling operational trials using satellite ADS-B position data starting in April in the North Atlantic for the busy air travel corridor between North America and Europe.

Canadian and British Air Navigation Services will monitor these trials, while the Federal Aviation Administration is looking to perform similar operational tests in the Caribbean.

“The final launch is very significant Aireon,” Thoma said. “The delivery of the last 10 payloads will complete the Aireon network, and when the Aireon payloads are integrated into the constellation, our team of engineers and startup customers will complete a series of tests to provide the final validation and certification of operational control systems for flight control. . “

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @ StephenClark1 .

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