From NASA Spaceflight: “Iridium marks new satellite network, 20 healthy satellites & 55 more to launch”

NASA Spaceflight

NASA Spaceflight

July 7, 2017
Chris Gebhardt
(Images: Iridium, FAA, US Air Force)

NASA Iridium satellite

With just 20 satellites of the Iridium Next constellation in orbit, Iridium Communications’ six remaining launches with SpaceX over the next year will place their entire 75 satellite network into polar orbit. The new constellation replaces an aging network and promises innovative, everyday telecommunications applications from airplane location services to maritime distress/communication to public global push-to-talk services to civilian remote wi-fi and cellular network capabilities to thousands of other applications for government, military, and civilian populations.

The original network, launched over 13 missions between 1997 and 1998 saw 95 Motorola-designed satellites bring reliable and continuous communications services to Earth’s polar regions.


In all, 95 of the 98 original Iridium satellites were launched, with 66 in active service and 29 serving as spares.

With 20 of the 75 new satellites for Iridium Next already in orbit, the process of replacing the aging constellation with the new satellites is underway.

Part of the complex deployment plan for Iridium Next is the aim that the transition between the old constellation and the new constellation be seamless for its customers.


The renovation is the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen), an FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) program designed to transform the U.S.’s Air Traffic Control (ATC) system from a radar-based system with radio communication to a satellite-based one using GPS technology.

The goal of NextGen is to shorten routes, save time and fuel, reduce traffic delays, increase capacity, and permit controllers to monitor and manage aircraft with greater safety margins.

The system began its rollout in 2012 with expected full implementation by 2025.

As part of this plan, all airlines had to install new transponders into their planes that broadcast the GPS position of the plane and tell the ground stations (part of the Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast [ADS-B] system) where the plane is – instead of the ground stations telling the plane where it is.

Enter Iridium Next.


The same innovation taking place in U.S. ATC could potentially be deployed across the trans-oceanic routes by allowing planes greater freedom of movement outside of the daily established air traffic lanes across the oceans.

“Airplanes today are supposed to be kept 60 miles apart,” said Mr. Desch. “There are still these conga lines across the North Atlantic where faster airplanes can’t pass slower airplanes and planes are kept at altitudes they don’t necessarily want to be at until the plane in front of them checks in.

“And all of that could go away with this new system because you’d be able to see the North Atlantic the same way we see North America in the coverage we have today.”

There is much more to this article.

See the full article here .

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