Iridium Communications has inked an agreement with SpaceX to launch additional communication satellites alongside the twin satellites of a collaborative mission between NASA and the GFZ German Research Center for Geosciences.
Iridium said Tuesday the launch of five Iridium NEXT satellites with the NASA/GFZ Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On payload aboard a Falcon 9 rocket in early 2018 is the company’s first rideshare deal.
The GRACE-FO twin satellites will use monthly maps of Earth’s gravitational field to track changes in the distribution of Earth’s mass — including water, ice, air and solid earth — over time in order to collect information on Earth system processes.
Iridium CEO Matt Desch said the rideshare agreement seeks to build on the resiliency of the company’s Iridium NEXT global satellite network.
It also provides Iridium an opportunity to rearrange current launch and drifting plans, launch the five satellites directly into the designated operational orbital plane as well as add to the number of planned in-orbit spares, the company added.
Iridium noted that the agreement will work to help the company complete the operational Iridium NEXT constellation at a quicker rate than the initially planned seven launches.
The eighth Falcon 9 launch deal brings the total number of planned in-orbit Iridium NEXT satellites, including spare units, to 75.