SpaceX launches communications satellites


A SpaceX rocket delivered 10 satellites into low-Earth orbit completing a two-year Iridium Communications Inc. campaign to replace its original fleet with a new generation of mobile communications technology and added global aircraft tracking capability.

The Falcon 9 rocket took off from Vandenberg Air Force Base on Friday morning and arched over the Pacific west of Los Angeles.

The first stage used previously was recovered again with a bullseye landing in a "droneship" in the ocean, while the upper stage continued in orbit.

The eighth and final launch of the $ 3 billion ($ A4.2b) Iridium NEXT project completed the delivery of 75 new satellites to orbit.

Sixty-six will be operational and nine will serve as spare parts in orbit. Six other satellites remain on the ground as spare parts.

All 10 newly launched satellites communicated with the Iridium operations center and were being prepared for testing, the company said.

Iridium has moved its new satellites to positions that were held by the ancients, which are lowered until they burn in the atmosphere. So far, 60 new satellites are in operation.

The first Iridium satellites were launched in the 1990s to provide voice, data, fax and paging services to customers with Iridium handsets and pagers.

Among the new capabilities enabled by the fleet upgrade is the Iridium Certus, described as a broadband solution for purposes ranging from vital safety services to command and control of unmanned aircraft systems and tracking.

Iridium NEXT satellites also carry an Aireon LLC system for space-based air traffic surveillance on more than 100% of the globe.

The Aireon system collects what is known as Automatic Broadcast Surveillance-Broadcast data automatically and in real time, even from remote areas along the world's oceans.

"Today we have been a milestone on our journey to revolutionize air traffic surveillance and we are only a few weeks away from a fully operational system," said Don Thoma, CEO of Aireon, in a statement.

"Now that the launches are complete, the final integration and testing of the newly launched cargoes can begin, after which the first truly real-time, real-time view of air traffic will become a reality."

Aireon said it is already processing more than 13 billion ADS-B messages per month.

Another difference with the new satellites is noteworthy to sky watchers: there are no "iridium flames." New satellites do not reflect sunlight like the old ones.


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