Iridium customers will shortly feel a massive difference in network coverage and strength once the newly stationed Iridium Next satellites become operational in mid-2018. On Friday, SpaceX launched it’s Falcon 9 rocket with 10 Iridium satellites from the Vandenberg Air Force Based in California precisely at 7:13:51 am PDT. The 229-foot-tall rocket with nine Merlin 1D engines attached to its first stage produced a staggering 1.7 million pounds of thrust taking the rocket to the speed of sound in just two-and-a-half minutes. The newly sent satellites are part of 75 Iridium Next satellite constellation of which total 50 satellites have been successfully deployed i.e 40 in 2017 and 10 satellites on Friday, March 30.
Per the reports, SpaceX used an recovered first stage booster which was recovered and refurbished to be used as the first stage in the Friday launch. SpaceX made it clear that it will do experimental maneuver on the third stage, but it doesn’t have any plans to recover it as it is replacing the older generation of rockets with newer ones. The launch scheduled at the end of April will mark the debut of Falcon 9 Block V which is the new generation of rockets made especially to be used for 10s and 100s of times after inspection and refurbishment.
Elon Musk tweeted on his Twitter handle about the attempt to catch the payload fairing which is the nose-cone shaped cover that protects the satellites during the flight and cost of $5 million to $6 million which is why SpaceX tried to catch it. But similar to the last attempt made in February when the drone-ship with a catcher’s mitt named Mr. Steven was just few hundred meters away from it when it splashed into the water. This time too, Mr. Steven was unable to catch the bulbous nose cone when it splashed into the Ocean at the speed eight times greater than the speed of sound.
Speaking about the Iridium Next, the 10 relay satellites were stationed at the altitude of 388 miles above the Earth surface. These satellites are destined to work with other 65 satellites of which total 50 satellites have already been sent to the orbit. Once, the constellation of 75 satellites for which, Iridium, a service provider had a contract with SpaceX, it will start beaming down good-quality signal with high-strength on the land, in water, and in the air as well.
Matt Desch, CEO at Iridium posted a statement saying that the company has already crossed the mark of one million subscribers and counting just when SpaceX was preparing to launch the satellites into the orbit. He further added that the target was anticipated, however, the milestone was achieved much before than predicted.
Last year, Iridium flagged off a campaign to launch eight missions to the destined orbit with SpaceX where it sent 10 satellites in each launch that took place in January, June, October, and December 2017. This year, the fifth launch in the row took place on Friday where it sent 10 satellites to replace its old and retiring satellites that were launched with a lifespan of just seven years in the 1990s and early 2000s. Since the older satellites had overperformed excessively, Iridium decided to invest a fortune of $3 billion to upgrade its services and increase subscribers base and to offer seamless and uninterrupted data, voice, and other services unlike others falling to meet the needs of the customers.
SpaceX was chosen to launch a constellation of 75 satellites in eight missions. Once all 8 missions are accomplished by the end of this year, 66 satellites while being thrown into action as they will start beaming signals to the customers providing high-strength network coverage and services. Rest 9 satellites are sanctioned as spares for when if any satellites go impaired or malfunctions. The company has plans to provide uninterrupted signals to the air traffic controllers and users in the air soon after it completes the deployment of 66 Iridium Next satellites.
Desch added that they are stunned by the SpaceX’s performance. He elaborated by pointing out that Iridium had to wait for days to get their satellites launched into the higher orbit last year, however, this year, the space agency has throttled its performance and has been accomplishment major feat its successful launches. In fact, SpaceX has sped up its process so much that officials at Iridium are forced to get the components of the satellites delivered on time so that they don’t miss the launch window.