Ten Iridium communications satellites drove a Falcon 9 rocket in orbit Friday from California to the eighth and last launch for Iridium's enhanced network in the last two years, and the first of about 18 SpaceX missions planned in 2019.  The Falcon 9 229-foot (70-meter) rocket fired its nine main Merlin 1D engines and moved away from the 4-East Space Launch Complex at the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 7: 31:33 PST (Friday: 31:30:33 EST (1931: 33 GMT).
Falcon 9 crawled in a clear morning sky on the central coast of California, heading south on the Pacific Ocean and dropping the booster of the first phase to return to a landing on the SpaceX drone ship about 150 miles (250 kilometers) in downrange from Vandenberg.
The landing marked the 33rd time that SpaceX recovered one of its missiles intact after the launch into orbit, and the se a specific mission for the booster was launched on Friday, followed by a flig in September from Cape Canaveral.
The second stage of the Falcon 9 continued in orbit, firing its Merlin engine twice at an altitude of about 388 miles (625 kilometers) before releasing 1,896 pounds (860-kilogram) Iridium Upcoming satellites one at a time from a distributor two-level mounted at the front end of the rocket.
Iridium's ground controllers quickly received signals from the new satellites, confirming their health after arriving in orbit, and ending a run of eight SpaceX launches the repopulation of the Iridium network with the modernized 21st century spacecraft .
Matt Desch, Iridium's CEO, told Spaceflight Now in a telephone interview after the launch that was enthusiastic about the mission, which gives Iridium 75 new-generation satellites capable of high-speed data transfers , better voice communications and secondary missions in air and maritime surveillance.
"I am still processing because it is so rewarding to complete something that is this epic and massive undertaking," said Desch. "I'm obviously relieved, but I'm kind of sad that we will not do it anymore, it's fun to have these launches and get everything to work, but I'm also trying to look forward and think about all the interesting things we do with these satellites.
"I am very proud of my team and proud of all those who have been associated with Iridium, and who are following us," said Desch in a telephone interview Friday from Vandenberg. "And they are very grateful for all the fans we have made along the way, that have cheered us up. "
Iridium ordered 81 Iridium Next satellites from Thales Alenia Space and Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems, who joined to build the spacecraft on an assembly line in Gilbert, Arizona In June 2010, less than two weeks after the first flight of the Falcon 9 rocket, Iridium announced a contract worth about $ 500 million for SpaceX to deliver satellites in orbit.
At the moment, Iri dium and SpaceX aimed to launch the first batch of satellites in 2015 and complete the updated network in 2017. Delays mainly driven by a pair of Falcon 9 setbacks in 2015 and 2016 pushed this program back a couple of years.
But in the end, SpaceX placed 75 of the Iridium Upcoming satellites in spot-on orbits. The remaining six spacecraft will remain on the ground as spare parts, but could be launched in the coming years to provide additional backups in the constellation of Iridium.
"We saw the commitment, the passion, we saw the technical skills that they had assembled with much experience," said Desch of Iridium's decision to fly its satellites with SpaceX. "We have seen the focus of (CEO SpaceX) Elon (Musk) and (chairman SpaceX) Gwynne (Shotwell) and some of the key management teams we have worked with
" I would not say it was focused on reusability and missiles of landing and all these things, "said Desch." We were more focused on the ability to successfully launch. I also knew that they had enough time to develop. We still have a lot of work to do to build 75 satellites.
"I really appreciate Gwynne being here at the launch today." We had a chance to remember a little and talk about how it was when we first met in 2006. And then we grew up together in A lot of people thought that what we were trying to do at that moment was crazy and audacious, and difficult given our history People thought the same thing about them, so we were so many years later, and we both achieved what we have tried to achieve, so we will always be intertwined together in our successes as we grow and succeed together, "said Desch
SpaceX plans about 18 Falcon missile missions in 2019
Hans Koenigsmann, vice president of SpaceX for the construction and reliability of the flight, said last month the company plans to launch about 18 Falcon missile launches in 1909.
"We have targeted 18 for next year, but one more or one less than the year, which can easily happen, "Koenigsmann told reporters at a December 5 press conference at the Kennedy Space Center of NASA in Florida.
SpaceX was launched this year including two test flights of the company's Crew Dragon spacecraft, one without astronauts as early as February, followed by a demonstration mission at the International Space Station with two NASA astronauts on board in the middle of the year. If those missions were to go on schedule, and successfully, a third Crew Dragon capsule could launch the first operational flight rotation to the station by the end of 2019, ending NASA's reliance on Russia for the transport of astronauts to the Earth's orbit.
planned in 2019: Two Falcon Heavy will launch this spring carrying an Arabsat communications satellite and a group of payloads sponsored by the US Air Force. SpaceX also plans to launch a series of satellites for the Starlink broadband network of the company, in addition to three unmanned Dragon missions in the space station and another launch of a US Air Force GPS navigation satellite, after the first launch of a GPS GPS load to close 2018.
Several other Falcon 9 launches from Cape Canaveral this year are set to satellites for geostationary loft communications, starting with PSN 6, a video, voice and data transmission device for broadcasting. Indonesian operator PT Pasifik Satelit Nusantara. The PSN 6 satellite, produced by SSL, is ready for take-off from Florida just in mid-February, along with a lunar lander developed in Israel, Beresheet, the Hebrew word for "genesis".
Other commercial geostationary communications payloads that may be ready to launch on Falcon 9 rockets this year include the Amos 17 satellite for the Israeli base Spacecom Ltd., scheduled to take off between April and June and the JCSAT 18 / Kacific 1 high-speed broadband satellite with Asia-Pacific coverage is scheduled for launch in the third quarter of the year, between July and September.
The SXM 7 satellite for Sirius XM Radio could also be launched at the end of 2019 or at the beginning of 2020 on a Falcon 9 rocket.
In addition to the flights of the two SpaceX launch pads in Florida, this year, another four Falcon 9 launches are scheduled from the Vandenberg Air Base in California, following Friday's mission to Iridium.
The next SpaceX launch from Vandenberg will take a Canadian Falcon 9 missile, the Canadian Radarsat Constellation Mission, a set of three identical radar imaging satellites. Another two launches of Falcon 9 from California this year are destined to deploy a fleet of German military satellites for radar imaging and the radar observation satellite SAOCOM 1B in Argentina is also scheduled for a Falcon 9 flight not before end of 2019.
SpaceX also plans an airborne in-flight test of the Crew Dragon spacecraft in the coming months, before the first astronauts fly the ship into orbit. That test flight from NASA's Kennedy Space Center will use a standard Falcon 9 rocket – in addition to the lack of a second-stage engine – launched from pad 39A, and the Crew Dragon capsule will activate its evacuation pods about a minute after takeoff, then the parachute in the Atlantic Ocean while the launch vehicle should detach after the stop command.
Twenty-one Falcon rockets took off in 2018, all successfully. This marked an increase from 18 Falcon missile missions in 2017.
SpaceX has launched 40 consecutive successful missions since it lost a Falcon 9 rocket in a launch explosion in September 2016.
launch of this year will see a change in the types of missions SpaceX is launching, a breakthrough even in the broader sector of commercial launch.
The missions carrying large loads of telecommunications to the geostationary orbit, a roost over 22,000 miles (almost 35,000 kilometers) on the equator, were the most common type of commercial launch. SpaceX conducted seven launches in geostationary orbit in 2017, followed by eight of these flights in 2018. This year, only four or five geostation launches are on SpaceX demonstration.
Rideshare missions carrying smaller groups of satellites are now more common, as Earth observation programs and commercial "mega-constellations" take off.
Iridium ready to debut new services
With a modernized fleet of satellites now in space, Iridium is set to enter a new era with expanded capacity, new services and a transition from development spending to earnings.
Iridium's communications network operates on 66 active satellites distributed over six orbital planes, as well as spare parts, with inter-satellite radio links to transmit voice and data traffic without connecting via terrestrial stations to Earth.
The first-generation "Block 1" satellites of the company, built by Lockheed Martin, from 1997 to 2002 and designed for seven-year missions. Most of the fleet survived that projection for life, and the new satellites have a dual mission in place of the obsolete and obsolete constellation of the society of the '90s, and as vehicles to introduce new services to expand beyond the phone and Iridium phone relay message functions.
The satellites launched on Friday headed to plane 3 of the Iridium fleet and the take-off was scheduled for the second with an instant launch window to accurately position the payloads in the correct orbit.
One of the new Iridium services, called Iridium Certus, will allow customers to transmit and receive messages with higher bandwidth, including high-definition video and Internet connections. Designed for ships, aircraft and other users on the go, Iridium Certus will provide Iridium customers with up to 1.4 megabits per second of L-band connectivity, starting at 128 kilobits per second available with the previous generation of satellites.
Each Iridium Next satellite also houses a host radio receiver for Aireon, a subsidiary of Iridium created in collaboration with air traffic control authorities in Europe and Canada. Aireon's instrumentation will track air traffic around the world, including aircraft that travel outside the range of conventional land radars.
"We arrived at Iridium in the distant 2007 and we started seriously in 2010. C & # 39; was very excited when finally our first launch took place two years ago, January 14, 2017, That was surprising and very important, but our final launch … is by far the most important milestone of all. "Desch said.
"I'm sure you can imagine some of the reasons why," he continued. "The completion of a $ 3 billion network upgrade, the new services we will be able to launch such as broadband Iridium Certus, IoT more efficient (Internet of Things) and Aireon, the financial transformation that will allow the Iridium But for me, this launch symbolizes something even more important: it means finally fulfilling the dream that the founders of this system were more than 30 years ago, which means that our network will finally achieve financial independence and security that makes a mature and successful satellite network operator, and creates many opportunities for us that we have never had before.This is a big problem for our customers, our partners and, frankly, for the industry itself. " Originally supported by Motorola, Iridium was a pioneer in the space and communications industry, deploying the first fleet of commercial satellites of its size in orbit. But Iridium declared bankruptcy shortly after launching its first series of satellites. A new company set up to track Iridium's activities, including satellites already in space, with a new commercial strategy after high prices and weak demand have condemned the original concept of Iridium.
Iridium has more than a million subscribers on its customer list, and the US Department of Defense is one of the company's main customers, along with air and sea transport operators, land transport providers and users in the mining industries , forestry, oil and gas.
"What are the prospects after Iridium Next?" This response is very ", said Desch. "The first new service we are going to present is our special L-band broadband service, called Iridium Certus.The name Certus is actually Latin, and means reliable, determined, sure and certain, all the adjectives that we believe define Iridium and our new single broadband service
"We spent all the tests in 2018 and made sure that Iridium Certus was ready for the market and testing data are almost complete. In fact, they are complete for some of our service providers, who are already starting to provide service to their maritime customers before the official commercial launch. The official launch of Iridium Certus is imminent. "
Desch said that the Iridium Certus offering will provide" safety-of-life "broadband connectivity for crews and maritime pilots.In a conference call with journalists last week, he suggested that the new service broadband bandwidth of Iridium's L-band will not compete with high-speed geostationary satellites and planned "mega-constellations" of hundreds or thousands of low-earth orbit spacecraft in the Ka and Kunda band, which targets the individual consumer market .
"Iridium Certus is applicable to any vertical sector, from maritime and air transport to mobile, and the Internet of objects," said Desch. "We are focusing the service on life security applications and on other important specialized broadband applications. We think that today is about a 700 million dollar market, which we will enter, mainly served by a satellite operator (Inmarsat), and we think that our service will be superior from all points of view. "
The Internet of Things is an industry term for when a type of network that transmits data, measurements and other signals between numerous objects around the world, from anything, from remote meteorological buoys to critical shipments traveling by road, sea or air.
"Iridium Certus is not designed to compete with high-throughput mega-constellations, or anyone using Ka, Ku, or other bands," said Desch. "The Iridium Certus is complementary. For example, in maritime applications today, L-band terminals are often installed as a complement to VSAT (Ku- or Ka-band) terminals on board for coverage and security purposes. "
In its favor, L-band communications typically require a smaller ground receiver than the Ku- or Ka band, and the L band is less susceptible to interference from rain, fog and thunderstorms, making it ideal for critical services But the Ku- and Ka band offer more bandwidth than the L-band.
"In aeronautical applications, Iridium Certus will be in the cockpit providing operational and safety communications at optimal levels, while the Ka and the band Ku will be in the cabin for everyone to use WiFi for entertainment services, "said Desch.
From their initial 388-mile orbit, the satellites of Iridium Next will use their thrusters to get on a & # 39; height of 476 miles (780) -kilometer) in orbit, where six of the new spacecraft will meet with the last of the old satellites of Block 1. The ground controllers at the Iridium L network operating center eesburg, Virginia, will instantly transfer traffic from the old satellite to the new vessel without interrupting the commercial service, in a procedure that the company calls a "slot exchange".
The other four satellites launched Friday are destined to be spares in the Iridium fleet.
"This will bring the total number of new Iridium satellites into orbit at 75, and after a thorough verification and validation process lasting several weeks, we will officially complete our new constellation," Desch said before the launch.
Engineers are turning off Iridium's retreating satellites while new broadcast stations arrive in orbit. Most of the old satellites have been maneuvered out of orbit to fall back into the earth's atmosphere, and all will undergo a procedure known as "passivation", in which their batteries and propellant tanks are drained, rendering them inert and reducing the possibility of an explosion in the future.
The blasts of iridium, a popular phenomenon for sky watchers over the last 20 years, will end when the last of the old satellites is withdrawn. Iridium satellites built by Lockheed Martin have silver-coated Teflon antennas that act like mirrors, reflecting sunlight on Earth just before dawn and just after sunset.
The flashes are predictable – on the second – and the satellite briefly becomes one of the brightest objects in the night sky. The apps and websites that look up to the sky can provide the times for the upcoming Iridium rockets anywhere in the world.
The Iridium Next satellites designed by Thales Alenia Space have a different shape of the antenna that does not produce glare.
"It's a sad moment for the global flare-watching community," said Desch. "This will disappear."
Preparations for Aireon for tests of air navigation in the North Atlantic
The aircraft monitoring service managed by Aireon will also take a big step towards the start of operations with the friday of the launch.
Aireon states that his service, which uses Harris Corp. receivers to collect aircraft position data, will ensure air traffic controllers know where airplanes are located around the world, reducing blind spots in routes transoceanic traffic, improving security
Air traffic authorities in Canada, Ireland, Italy, Denmark and the United Kingdom are part of the Aireon joint venture with Iridium and air traffic management organizations are also being set up in Africa, in the United States and elsewhere in Europe to use the system.
"With the complete constellation of Iridium Next, Aireon will have air traffic surveillance data in real time comparable to those of land systems, but for the entire planet, I Nienting over the oceans and remote areas where it never existed before, "said Don Thoma, CEO of Aireon.
The Aireon system works by collecting position data transmitted by aircraft equipped with ADS-B technology. The Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast technology, or ADS-B, allows an aircraft to determine its position via satellite navigation, and then transmit the position immediately.
This reduces the dependence of flight controllers from outdated radars to track aircraft movements. But ground-based ADS-B receivers have the same limitations as radar – they do not allow uninterrupted monitoring of planes over oceans and other remote regions.
When airplanes fly outside the radar range, pilots are generally responsible for maintaining a certain route and altitude, ensuring between 30 and 100 miles (about 50-150 km) of separation between aircraft for security purposes. With real-time global monitoring, these requirements could be relaxed.
The Aireon receivers on each of the Iridium Next satellites are designed to collect the same ADS-B signals already transmitted by most airplanes. US and European regulators have requested that all commercial passenger airliners be equipped with ADS-B technology by 2020.
"This was the reason behind the creation of Aireon," said Thoma. "It has been clear for many years that a complete and truly global air surveillance system is a must-have, not only for the efficiency of air traffic management, but for the safety of all those traveling by air.  "Aireon will support major improvements in safety, including better awareness of the situation of controllers, reducing … the separation of aircraft and the elimination of security gaps due to lack of real-time surveillance", Thoma said. "It will reduce the response time of the controller to normal situations, such as meteorological deviations or navigation errors by pilots and, of course, improve search and rescue response times.
"The use of Aireon will improve the efficiency of air traffic through the optimization of flight trajectories and improved traffic flows and real-time surveillance will allow airlines to plan and pilot more routes direct, saving significant amounts of fuel. "
According to Thoma, the certification of the Aireon system is expected to be completed by March, allowing operational tests using satellite ADS – Position B data will begin in April in the North Atlantic Ocean for the Busy air transport corridor between North America and Europe.
The Canadian and British authorities will monitor these processes, while the Federal Aviation Administration is trying to conduct similar operational tests in the Caribbean.
"The final launch is very significant Aireon," said Thoma. "Delivering the last 10 payloads into orbit will finally complete the Aireon network, and once the Aireon payloads are integrated into the constellation, our team of engineers and launch customers will complete a series of tests to provide the final validation and certification of the system for operational use for air traffic control. "
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