Thursday, 07 February 2019 09:49

Iridium completes US$3 billlion NEXT satellite upgrade

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Satellite communications company Iridium has completed its US$3 billion NEXT satellite constellation upgrade campaign.

Announcing completion of the upgrde, Iridium also introduced a new small-form-factor transceiver known as the Iridium Certus  9770, which will enable creation of new consumer and industrial applications that are highly portable and IoT-friendly, optimised for small size and low cost, yet with higher speeds than in the past thanks to the upgraded Iridium satellite network.

The completion of the Iridium NEXT campaign comes as the final two satellites required to complete the network refresh were activated on 5 February.

With a fully operational constellation, featuring 66 new Iridium satellites and no further launches planned, Iridium has concluded its nearly decade-long capital-intensive program that created an upgraded network both in space and on the ground.

After spending several hundred million dollars per year to build and deploy the new network, Iridium expects capital costs to decrease to approximately US$35 million per year, with revenues continuing to grow as the company expands into newer revenue streams like broadband, IoT and hosted payloads.

“The completion of the Iridium NEXT program signifies a new chapter in the Iridium story, one that sees us transforming from a big cash spender to a big cash generator,” said Iridium chief executive Matt Desch.

“This is the realisation of a long, successful climb, and reaching the peak, it’s gratifying to know the future of the company is secure, and we have now financially matured as a satellite operator. Huge thanks are in order to our entire team, particularly our friends at SpaceX and our prime satellite manufacturer Thales Alenia Space and their teams.”

First announced in 2010, the Iridium NEXT campaign featured eight launches with SpaceX. In total, 81 satellites were built by prime contractor Thales Alenia Space, of which 75 were launched, with 66 in the operational constellation and nine serving as on-orbit spares.

Thales Alenia Space was responsible for design and integration of the new satellites, including launch and early operations testing in partnership with Iridium’s team at the company’s Satellite Network Operations Centre in Virginia.

According to Iridium, the upgraded Iridium constellation enables never before possible services such as the Aireon global aircraft tracking and surveillance system and Iridium Certus, the company's new broadband service, which launched commercially in January 2019. The upgraded network is also fully compatible with the original satellite constellation’s services, a notable accomplishment given the size and scope of the upgrade.

Jean-Loic Galle, chief executive of Thales Alenia Space, said: “The 75 in-orbit satellites are working very well, and the overall end-to-end performance improvement for existing customers is dramatic. Two years after the first launch, Iridium NEXT, one of the most sophisticated communication systems in the world, is now totally deployed and fully operational. All the satellites are interconnected, and we have ensured a continuity of service without any interruption.”

Iridium says the new Iridium Certus 9770 transceiver is a game changer for satellite IoT, aviation, maritime and consumer services, enabling low-cost, small devices that can make more efficient and higher speed connections than its predecessors.

Built on the Iridium Certus technology platform, applications and devices made with the new transceiver will feature a range of speeds optimised for efficiently sending data to and from the user, typically in the range of less than 100kbps.


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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham - an iTWire treasure is a mentor and coach who volunteers also a writer and much valued founding partner of iTWire. He is a veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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