Iridium Communications plans to launch on March 18 at 8:19 a.m. Pacific time the fifth batch of 10 Iridium NEXT satellites aboard a SpaceX-built Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
The planned launch would bring the total number of Iridium NEXT satellites in orbit to 50 as part of a potential $3 billion program to replace an existing constellation of communications satellites that is expected to be completed by mid-2018, Iridium said Monday.
Iridium CEO Matt Desch said calendar year 2018 will mark the completion of the company’s “constellation refresh.”
“In addition to four launches, we will continue the testing and validation processes for our new specialty broadband service, Iridium Certus, and look forward to its commercial launch later this year,” Desch added.
The scheduled launch will use Falcon 9’s previously-flown first stage that SpaceX deployed in October 2017 to send the third set of Iridium NEXT satellites into orbit.
Satellites under Iridium-5 launch will go to orbital plane 1 and enter service upon completion of the testing and validation phase.
The company said it expects to launch by mid-to-late April the Iridium-6 Rideshare mission that will bring into space five Iridium NEXT satellites and two satellites as part of the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On mission of NASA and GFZ German Research Center for Geosciences.
The announcement came a month after the fourth set of Iridium NEXT satellites took off aboard Falcon 9.