Iridium Automates ‘NEXT’ Satellite Positioning at Network Ops Facility in Virginia

Iridium Communications has begun to replace old satellites with Iridium NEXT satellites through its Leesburg, Virginia-based facility that works to automate the process of moving the new satellites into their positions, Space News reported Monday.

The personnel at the company’s satellite network operations center in Virginia have written new commands to automate “slot swaps” in which NEXT satellites are inserted into old ones’ slots and linked to the constellation’s communications crosslinks.

The report said automation has helped Iridium facilitate data sharing operations between satellites and ground stations, transmit measurements on spacecraft temperatures, data rates and voltages as well as avoid potential satellite collisions.

“We’ve automated almost everything or else we would have 10 times as many people,” said Scott Smith, chief operating officer at Iridium.

Approximately eight employees per shift work at the center to monitor 80 satellites in orbit, transmit commands and plan missions.

Iridium has launched 20 NEXT satellites since January and plans to send the third batch of satellites aboard a SpaceX-built Falcon 9 rocket by Sept. 30.

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