Iridium Completes $3B Satellite Constellation Upgrade
Wednesday, February 06, 2019 | Comments

Iridium Communications completed its $3 billion satellite constellation upgrade known as Iridium NEXT and will finish deactivating its 20-year-old original satellite constellation in coming months. The final two satellites required to complete the network refresh were activated Feb. 5.

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. After spending several hundred million dollars per year to build and deploy the new network, Iridium expects capital costs to decrease to about $35 million per year, with revenues continuing to increase as the company expands into newer revenue streams such as 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 CEO Matt Desch. "This is the realization 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, prime contractor Thales Alenia Space built 81 satellites, of which 75 were launched, with 66 in the operational constellation and nine serving as on-orbit spares. The 66 cross-linked satellites create a web of coverage around the entire planet including over the oceans and polar regions without the need for abundant ground stations.

Iridium Certus, the company's new broadband service, commercially launched in January. The upgraded network is also fully compatible with the original satellite constellation's services.

The satellite service provider also introduced a new small transceiver, the Iridium Certus 9770, for internet of things (IoT) applications at low cost and data speeds of up to 750 kilobits per second (kbps) thanks to the upgraded satellite network.

Applications and devices made with the new transceiver will feature a range of speeds optimized for efficiently sending data to and from the user, typically in the range of less than 100 kbps. The Iridium Certus 9770 is the first in a series of new devices that will augment Iridium's existing transceivers with about the same form factor as existing narrowband antennas used in aviation, maritime, IoT and land mobile markets, but using native IP technology at up to 35 times the speed as current devices. Select licensed manufacturers of Iridium can expect to receive prototypes of the device around mid-2019.

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