Iridium says the launch signifies the mid-way point of the NEXT launch programme and will deliver another 10 satellites to orbit, bringing the total number deployed to 40.
NEXT is Iridium’s $3 billion, next-generation, mobile, global satellite network scheduled for completion in 2018. It will replace the company’s existing global constellation in what the company claims is one of the largest technology upgrades ever completed in space.
Targeted for just over two months after the third Iridium NEXT launch, the company says the December date enables it to maintain its planned cadence of completing all launches by mid-2018, even with SpaceX’s busy launch manifest.
The company says the new satellites are also now undergoing on-orbit testing for Iridium Certus, a “major milestone on the path to introducing the company’s next generation broadband service”.
Iridium says Certus will feature small form factor, cost-effective terminals and antennas, and ultimately offer the “fastest L-band broadband solution available, supported by the world's only truly global network”.
In addition to the fourth launch date, Iridium also announced it has reached agreement with SpaceX to utilise flight-proven first stages for the next two Iridium launches.
Iridium conducted extensive due diligence work and it says it is fully confident in the SpaceX booster refurbishment programme.
“I believe that re-usability is the future for satellite launches, and I think SpaceX has intelligently built their Falcon 9 program around this strategy,” said Iridium chief executive Matt Desch.
“With three successful flight-proven Falcon 9 launches already this year, we’re excited to show leadership towards the sustainable access to space, while also making sure we maintain our cadence to complete the five remaining Iridium NEXT launches by the middle of next year.”