Tag Archives: Iridium

Iridium switches two upcoming launches to reused Falcon 9 first stages

Capitalism in space: Iridium has revised its launch agreements for two upcoming launches using the Falcon 9 rocket to have both use previously flown first stages.

While the article provides a lot of good background on SpaceX’s increasing sales of reused first stages, including the fact that 20% of SpaceX’s launches this year might end up using re-used first stages, an amazing number consider this is also the first year they are doing so, this quote from the article however is even more astonishing:

Importantly for Iridium, and for the launch market as a whole, Iridium revealed in its announcement that the cost of insuring the Iridium NEXT-4 and -5 missions did not change with the switch to flight-proven boosters. “Iridium confirmed with its insurers that there is no increase in premium for the launch program as a result of the use of flight-proven Falcon 9 rockets, further supporting Iridium’s conclusion that the risk profile is unchanged,” noted the release.

Overall, this is an excellent sign that the all-important insurance market element of spaceflight continues to see no increased risk with launching atop flight-proven boosters.

One of my sources close to SpaceX says that the company will likely not fly these reused first stages intact more than twice, but will still salvage the engines for additional reuses. Considering the engines are the most expensive component, this makes great sense. Even if SpaceX doesn’t fly a first stage intact, it has developed an efficient and effective method for recovering the engines for reuse.


June 27, 2017 Zimmerman/Batchelor podcast with Iridium CEO Matt Desch

Embedded below the fold. This podcast is a bit different, in that John and I essentially interviewed the CEO of Iridium, asking him questions about the company and their launch contracts with SpaceX. I was especially interested in Desch’s earlier statements saying that Iridium is negotiating with SpaceX about using used first stages, but wanted any use to be accompanied by an acceleration of its launch schedule.
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SpaceX launches 10 Iridium satellites, lands first stage

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully launched 10 Iridium satellites while also once again successfully landing the Falcon 9 first stage.

This gives them 9 launches for the year, more than any other company or country in the entire world.

One cool personal detail about today’s launch. Diane and I were doing a hike with two friends, and at about 1:20 pm I asked Brian if his Iphone might have signal and could we maybe then watch the launch. Lo and behold, he did have signal, and we were able to connect with SpaceX’s live stream, and were able to take a fifteen minute hiking break to watch the launch and first stage landing while sitting on a mountain trail in the Santa Catalina mountains north of Tucson.

Ain’t technology wonderful?


Iridium launches might use reused Falcon 9 first stages

Capitalism in space: Iridium is considering using Falcon 9 previously flown first stages for its later already contracted launches with SpaceX.

Iridium is launching 75 of its 81 second-generation Iridium Next satellites using eight Falcon 9 launches, the first of which took place Jan. 14. In a conference call with reporters June 19, Desch said Iridium’s original contract with SpaceX calls for new Falcon 9s for each mission, but if SpaceX can improve its launch schedule with pre-flown stages, Iridium would consider them for missions in 2018. “While we are currently flying first flown launches, I’m open to previously flown launches, particularly for the second half of our launch schedule,” said Desch.

Desch said there are three criterion by which Iridium would decide whether to use a pre-flown rocket: schedule, cost and reliability — of which schedule is the most important. “Would [pre-flown rockets] improve the current launch plan that I have with brand-new rockets that I’ve basically contracted for a number of years ago and have budgeted for and have paid for?” Desch asked. “That’s the first thing: will they improve my schedule, because schedule to me is very very important.”

I think this tells us that Iridium is waiting to see if this week’s launch of a Bulgarian satellite on a reused first stage is successful. The article also also notes that they are still negotiating over price for using “flight proven” first stages.


SpaceX gets an eighth Iridium launch

The competition heats up: SpaceX has won a new launch contract, this time by launching both Iridium’s five satellites as well as the NASA/German Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE-FO) mission.

Both NASA and Iridium will save money by sharing the ride, while SpaceX gets more business.


SpaceX is flying again

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 has successfully launched 10 Iridium satellites, and its first stage has also successfully landed on the barge.

The live view of the first stage landing was especially thrilling, using a camera on the stage, looking down to the Pacific Ocean. While there were a few dropouts, the picture stayed live for the entire descent.


Iridium’s next generation constellation of satellites

The competition heats up: Iridium prepares the first 10 of a total of 81 new satellites for launch on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 in September.

The Iridium Next program is a $3 billion investment by Iridium, according to Matt Desch, Iridium’s chief executive officer. Iridium’s purchase of 81 satellites represents approximately $2.2 billion of that cost, Desch said, and the company’s launch contract with SpaceX for seven Falcon 9 flights was valued at $492 million when the parties signed it in 2010. That was the largest commercial launch contract in history until last year’s 21-launch order by satellite Internet provider OneWeb with Arianespace.

The first 10 Iridium Next satellites will fly on a Falcon 9 rocket in September, followed by a second launch as soon as December with the next batch. Iridium managers will give the go-ahead for the second launch once the first 10 satellites finish initial in-orbit tests, Desch said. The other five launches should occur about once every two months next year to fill out the Iridium Next fleet 485 miles (780 kilometers) above Earth. Iridium’s contract with SpaceX calls for all the missions to fly on newly-built Falcon 9s, a situation unlikely to change any time soon since insurance arrangements for the initial launches have been finalized.

But Desch said he is open to purchasing reused Falcon 9 boosters in the future “if they’re the right price.”

To meet this schedule SpaceX’s launch schedule will have to ramp up considerably from its present rate of one launch about every three weeks.


Iridium announces its own alternative to GPS

The competition heats up: Iridium has announced the availability of its own location technology comparable to GPS and using the company’s constellation of satellites.

Iridium Communications Inc. has introduced its Satellite Time and Location (STL) service, an alternative or complement to traditional indoor and outdoor location-based technologies, and declared it ready for use. STL’s position, navigation and timing (PNT) technology is deployed through Iridium’s 66 cross-linked, low-earth orbit satellite constellation. Through Iridium satellites and in GNSS receivers, STL technology can work to verify GPS, GLONASS, Galileo and other navigation services, and also can serve as an alternative for those services when GPS signals are degraded or unavailable. STL also can provide an alternative source of time when testing GPS signals.

Essentially, for practically nothing, using satellites and technology already in orbit, they have created their own system that can both compete and complement the expensive government-built GPS systems.


Were two Iridium satellites hit by space junk?

Engineers are puzzling over the release of debris from two separate Iridium satellites last year, with each even suggesting the satellites were hit by very small pieces of space junk.

The U.S. Joint Space Operations Center detected 10 pieces of debris from the Iridium 47 satellite June 7, 2014. Some of the objects flew away from Iridium 47 at up to 80 meters per second — nearly 180 mph — into orbits almost 200 miles above the satellite, suggesting an explosion or collision triggered their creation. Another Iridium spacecraft — Iridium 91 — produced four debris fragments Nov. 30, according to U.S. military tracking data. “In contrast to the previous Iridium breakup, however, these pieces were produced with minimal delta velocity and remained in the vicinity to the parent spacecraft for some time,” NASA officials wrote.

In both cases, the satellites showed no signs of a breakup and remain operational, according to Iridium Communications, a Virginia-based company that uses a fleet of spacecraft nearly 500 miles above Earth for mobile voice and data services.


Five space companies whose future hangs in the balance.

The heat of competition: Space News takes a close look at five space companies that will face critical challenges in the next two years.

Some of the companies on the list will surprise you. The article also gives some good background on the entire industry and the challenges it all faces in the coming year.

Posted from Tucson International Airport.


The sanctions against Russia imposed by the Obama administration could delay the launch of Iridium’s second generation communications constellation of satellites.

The sanctions against Russia imposed by the Obama administration could delay the launch of Iridium’s second generation communications constellation of satellites.


Orbital Sciences has begun construction of the 81satellites that will make up Iridium’s second generation communications satellite constellation.

The competition heats up: Orbital Sciences has begun construction of the 81satellites that will make up Iridium’s second generation communications satellite constellation.

Not only is this big business for satellite construction — 81 satellites is a big order — someone will have to launch those satellites. Even if they are launched in groups of five, which was how it was done for the first generation, it will still take more than 16 launches to get them all in orbit. That will be a lot of business for some lucky rocket company.