SpaceX completed a Falcon 9 static fire test before the company's first launch in 2019, kicking off what looks like a truly full year for Falcon 9 and BFR. Most important, of course, is SpaceX's core business and key revenue streams – launching satellites, payloads and – soon – astronauts in orbit with security and reliability.
Previously in charge of launching the Telstar 18V heavy communications satellite in September 2018, Falcon 9 B1049 is set to launch a landmark mission for SpaceX and for client Iridium, the eighth and last contracted launch of the satellite communications constellation Iridium NEXT .
Falcon 9 static fire test complete. Work with the customer to determine the best launch opportunity to complete the Iridium NEXT constellation; will announce a targeted release date once it has been confirmed.
– SpaceX (@ SpaceZ) January 6, 2019
All the way back in June 2010, Iridium's decision to grant the contract to launch the complete NEXT constellation to SpaceX less than two weeks after the first and only launch of Falcon 9 may be the largest calculated jump in faith in the history of commercial space flight. SpaceX has admitted to offering an unbeatable price ($ 492 million for eight releases, $ 61.5 million per launch), which may have allowed Iridium to buy a new constellation, but the risk that Iridium took was really immense at the time .
Originally launched between 1997 and 1998, the first constellation of Iridium has become and remains the only constellation of satellite communications in history to offer global and persistent coverage. anywhere on Earth, allowing those with Iridium devices to ensure connectivity no matter where they are. To some extent, the original constellation has become a backbone, but omnipresent, of a huge variety of enterprises, businesses and services, ranging from marine vessel tracking and emergency response to the solution to those who are going away from the beaten path. As just a small example, SpaceX's large fleet of marine vessels and cross-country transport infrastructure rely on Iridium to streamline movement tracking across the enterprise, greatly easing the lives of logistics and planning teams.
– Brian Sandoval (@brianksphotos) January 6, 2019
Iridium's decision to use SpaceX for its next constellation probably also gave SpaceX massive boosting stature by pulling him out of the company with just a handful of business contracts that failed three of his last five releases to the company, which secured what was then the largest single commercial launch contract in history. Together with NASA's Commercial Orbital Services (COTS) and Replenishment Services (CRS) (~ 14 launches as of 2010), Iridium NEXT upgraded SpaceX's commercial manifesto of perhaps 2 missions to ~ 10 while also taking the value of these contracts of almost insignificant value. sum to more than half a billion dollars.
Although SpaceX and Iridium originally planned launches for a period of approximately 24 months, from 2015 to 2017, unplanned technical delays and a double Falcon 9 in-flight failure (CRS-7 and Amos-6) in 2015 and 2016 finally boosted the launch of the Iridium NEXT for several years. Despite the huge obstacles and a host of minor issues, SpaceX and Iridium were finally able to start launching satellites in January 2017 and continued to do so consistently every 3-4 months thereafter. In addition to a NASA shared mission that featured five NEXT satellites in May 2018, all seven launched ten NEXT satellites (weighing approximately 10,000 kg or 22,000 lbs total) in a variety of polar orbits without any hitch.
A rare glimpse into SpaceX's SLC-4 rocket integration hangar, January 2017. (SpaceX)
Payload fairing of Iridium-7 Falcon 9, July 2018. (Pauline Acalin)
LEO communications satellites, such as the Iridium NEXT constellation, feature fully planar panels of phased array antennas capable of digitally forming beams. (Harris)
Falcon 9 enters the era of reuse
Following closely on SES, NASA and SSL (BulgariaSat), Iridium also became the fourth commercial entity to launch a flight-tested Falcon 9 rocket for the fourth proven flight mission of the all-time launch vehicle. Iridium-8 will be the fourth launch of the constellation to fly aboard a Fulmon 9 rocket, meaning that 50% of next-generation satellites will have launched re-used rockets, one of the coolest bragging rights of all time. Currently with 65 NEXT satellites in orbit and rapidly approaching operational status, Falcon 9 B1049 and a new upper stage (crossed fingers) place the last ten satellites into orbit to complete the last plane of the constellation and seal the last gap in its global coverage perfect.
Although NEXT was valuable just because its predecessor satellites are now between 5 and 10 years old, NEXT will also dramatically increase Iridium's overall bandwidth, reduce simultaneous user congestion, and provide a platform for new services such as Aireon . , which hopes to become the first operator of a truly commercial aircraft tracking service with global satellite coverage.
One of the last samples of Fairing 1.0 flew on Iridium-5, March 30.
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Falcon 9 B1041.2 seen before the release of Iridium-5. (Pauline Acalin)
The successful and panoramic landing of the Iridium-1 on the Pacific JRTI drone in January 2017. This may be an increasingly rare occurrence in the Pacific, thanks to SpaceX's new land landing zone. (SpaceX)
2017 saw the recovery SpaceX 10 Falcon 9 first steps, 5 by the sea. (SpaceX)
All in all, it will be extremely bittersweet to see Iridium's direct relationship with SpaceX come to an end with the release of Iridium-8. In addition to nine additional spares in orbit when all 75 are launched, Iridium will also have a complement of six more spares that will be stored in the ground until needed in orbit. If or when those times are up, SpaceX will be able to compete with other launch providers for the opportunity to carry one or two Iridium satellites – probably as shared payloads – into orbit sometime in the future.
Iridium open to shares for spare satellite launches https://t.co/ino39oWCHw pic.twitter.com/56PTcaEMW3
– SpaceNews (@SpaceNews_Inc) January 4, 2019
In the meantime, be aware of the official release date and time of the Iridium-8, which will be announced by SpaceX sometime within the next 24-48 hours.
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