SpaceX launch completes Iridium satellite refresh

SpaceX launch completes Iridium satellite refresh

From BBC

Ten spacecraft have launched from California to complete the $3bn refurbishment of the original satellite phone system, Iridium.

A SpaceX Falcon rocket carried the platforms aloft. They will go live in the network in the coming weeks.

The original Iridium constellation was put up in the late 90s to link calls to any location on the planet.

This function will continue, but the new satellites carry some add-ons to support additional services.

One is monitoring technology to surveil the movements of planes.

The UK’s air traffic management company, NATS, and its Canadian equivalent, NAV CANADA, plan to use the new capability to transform the routing of aircraft across the North Atlantic.

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Friday’s Falcon launch was the eighth in a series of missions that have put a total of 75 state-of-the-art spacecraft in orbit.

Only 66 interlinked platforms are actually required to run the network, so the extra nine will act as spares.

The Iridium service seemed a marvel when first introduced.

With a chunky phone, it was possible to make and take calls anywhere – in deserts, up high mountains and even at the poles. However, the initial company couldn’t pay back its development loans and went bust.

The entity that emerged, freed from this debt, has since built a strong business. It now has more than a million subscribers.

Connected world

Much of this business still revolves around phone calls, but a rapidly growing segment is centred on the relay of simple status messages from connected equipment, such as vehicles and industrial equipment. What technologists sometimes call IoT – the Internet of Things.

Being able to operate a totally refreshed constellation would take the company to a new level, said CEO Matt Desch.

“It means our network will finally achieve the financial independence and security that makes

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