The launch is the seventh of eight Iridium NEXT satellite missions that SpaceX agreed to perform to replace the McLean, Va.-based company’s existing network of 66 satellites in low-Earth orbit, Iridium said Wednesday.
The Iridium NEXT satellite constellation is slated for full deployment later this year and will deliver services such as the Iridium Certus L-band broadband service and Aireon’s aircraft surveillance platform.
“This historic constellation refresh is one launch away from completion,” said Iridium CEO Matt Desch.
“We’ve come a long way, and we are particularly excited to see the financial transformation enabled by the completion of the Iridium NEXT system and the associated drop in capital expenditures,” added Desch, a four-time Wash100 recipient.
Aireon said Wednesday the seventh Iridium NEXT mission brings the total number of its Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast payloads in orbit to 65 and it expects its system to enter service this year.
The Aireon system will be paired with Iridium’s SATCOM Voice and other communications capabilities to provide pilots with real-time air traffic surveillance as they operate over remote and oceanic routes.
“Iridium and Aireon share the same Iridium NEXT network, though they operate through separate payloads and on-board antennas, with Iridium utilizing the main mission antenna and Aireon utilizing its own custom-designed hosted payload,” Desch noted.
Oceanic airspace-based operational trials of the Aireon system over the North Atlantic will kick off in early 2019.