The Iridium-7 event marked the seventh of eight launches planned for the Iridium NEXT constellation, replacing the company's existing 66-satellite network. A single launch of 10 more Iridium NEXT satellites and hosted Aireon payloads remain before the launch campaign concludes later this year. The completed Iridium NEXT network is expected to usher in a new era of capabilities, including the Iridium Certus broadband service and Aireon real-time aircraft surveillance system.
“Iridium and Aireon share the same Iridium NEXT network, though they operate through separate payloads and on-board antennas, with Iridium utilizing the main mission antenna and Aireon utilizing its own custom-designed hosted payload,” describes Matt Desch, CEO of Iridium Communications Inc. in McLean, Va. “This combination creates a unique, multipurpose satellite network providing aircraft connectivity and surveillance with multiple built-in redundancies.”
The Aireon system is scheduled to go live in 2018 with operational deployment beginning shortly thereafter in the Edmonton and Gander Flight Information Regions (FIR) in Canada. Operational trials in oceanic airspace over the North Atlantic will begin in early 2019.
“Upon completion of the new network, the Aireon system will enable never-before possible capabilities for air navigation service providers (ANSPs), air traffic controllers, airline operators, and industry stakeholders,” officials say. “Oceanic and remote airspace will, for the first time, have real-time air traffic surveillance, allowing further enhanced safety, as well as on-the-fly route adjustments, more direct flight paths, and increased predictability.”
“We’re getting closer to the finish line,” adds Don Thoma, CEO of Aireon. “Perhaps most exciting though is that the system has been functioning beyond expectation, resulting in even greater coverage redundancy than initially planned. We’re seeing double coverage, and in many cases triple redundancy from our payloads before the constellation is even completed. With this seventh successful launch completed, we’re now preparing to begin a new era for the aviation industry.”
The Iridium NEXT satellite constellation will include 66 LEO crosslinked satellites that blanket the earth with pole-to-pole coverage. When pairing the Aireon service with the real-time communications capabilities offered by Iridium, such as Controller Pilot Data Link Communications (CPDLC) or Iridium SATCOM Voice, pilots flying oceanic and remote routes will be in real-time contact with air traffic controllers enabling them to obtain route adjustments and maximizing the benefits of Aireon’s air traffic surveillance.
Satellite communications provider Iridium covers the globe to ensure “that wherever an aircraft may fly, it will always remain in coverage with real-time communication,” a capability that has become important as airlines fly more routes over the North Pole to reduce flight time and fuel cost, officials say.
A total of 81 Iridium NEXT satellites are being built, all of which will have the Aireon payload onboard. Currently, 75 satellites are planned to be deployed with nine serving as on-orbit spares and the remaining six as ground spares. The constellation is planned for completion this year.
Completion of Iridium NEXT will also provide the Iridium partner ecosystem, consisting of hundreds of companies, with an industry platform for innovation supporting the creation, distribution, and servicing of Iridium equipment, airtime, and applications. Iridium Certus will provide fast L-band broadband service globally, boosting Iridium satellite connectivity using smaller, more cost-effective terminals.
Five companies selected by Iridium as Value Added Manufacturers for Iridium Certus, include: Thales, Cobham, Rockwell Collins, L3 Communications, and Gogo. This group of companies has been joined by more than 20 Iridium Certus service providers who will be providing the service for maritime, aviation, Internet of Things (IoT), land-mobile, and government-related industries.
The 10 Iridium NEXT satellites launched as part of the seventh mission were delivered to orbital plane number five, where they will go in to operation immediately following testing and validation. The Iridium network is comprised of six polar orbiting planes, each containing 11 crosslinked satellites for a total of 66 in the operational constellation. Upon activation of all 10 new satellites, orbital plane five will become the fourth Iridium orbital plane to be comprised exclusively of Iridium NEXT satellites.
Images courtesy Aireon, Iridium, SpaceX.
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