SpaceX delivers 10 new Iridium satellites into orbit


"This is the eighth and final set of satellites in a series of 75 total satellites that SpaceX will launch for Iridium's next generation global satellite constellation, Iridium NEXT", SpaceX announced on its website in a preview of Friday's launch.

The Iridium-8 mission launched at 10:31 a.m. ET on Friday from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

SpaceX launched its first mission of 2019, fulfilling its Iridium contract, while the Falcon 9 due to loft the company's Crew Dragon demo mission remained resolutely attached to Florida.

Final deployment of Iridium's 10 satellites is expected to take place about an hour after lift-off.

But the primary objective of the rocket launch involved completing the $3 billion Iridium Next constellation to provide voice and data communication anywhere on the globe.

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"Iridium is the only satellite communications network that spans the entire globe and Iridium NEXT is one of the largest "tech upgrades" in space history", SpaceX said in a statement. So far, 60 new satellites are in operation.

Iridium is deorbiting its original fleet of satellites. Beginning in January 2018, SpaceX has been putting the satellites into low Earth orbit to replace older spacecraft and clear the way for advanced services.

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

Aireon said it is already processing more than 13 billion ADS-B messages per month. That sort of interchangeability and hands-off approach to customers is likely at least 12 months off, if not longer (old habits die hard), but a fleet of a dozen or more flight-ready rockets is truly a courageous new world for commercial spaceflight and even spaceflight in general.