MCLEAN, Va., 3 July 2014. Iridium Communications Inc. (Nasdaq:IRDM) and SpaceX have completed dispenser qualification testing for the Iridium NEXT constellation. The dispenser is the mission-unique assembly that holds the satellites during launch and manages the perfectly timed separation of each satellite from the rocket, placing each of the satellites into its proper orbit.
The testing program, a key milestone in the Iridium NEXT constellation build, included four types of testing on the satellite dispenser: fit check, separation and shock testing, a modal survey, and static loads testing. Overall the tests ensure launch shock environment, mechanical form, fit and function, separation dynamics, fundamental frequency and structural integrity.
SpaceX is charged with delivering the majority of satellites for the Iridium NEXT constellation into low Earth orbit (LEO). At each launch, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will carry 10 satellites. In total, SpaceX will launch 70 satellites for the Iridium NEXT constellation over a planned period of two years. Iridium is SpaceX's largest commercial customer, and, with an investment of $453.1 million, the Iridium deal represents the largest single commercial space launch contract in history, officials say.
"SpaceX is once again proving to be on top of their game, and have met yet another milestone on time and with great success," says Scott Smith, chief operating officer. "The launch of the satellites for Iridium NEXT is fairly complicated, given the sheer number of satellites that need to be placed into orbit. The dispenser passed its system level qualification tests with flying colors, and we're now moving forward with launch preparations."
"Iridium NEXT requires a complex mission, with complex hardware development, and we are proud that the qualification testing is complete," says Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer, SpaceX. "We're pleased to be a launch partner in the Iridium NEXT program, and looking forward to the first of many launches, which are scheduled to begin in 2015."
The Iridium NEXT satellite network will offer greater bandwidth, improved data speeds and continued service as the only satellite network offering truly global coverage. It will include a hosted payload for Aireon(SM), the first truly global aircraft tracking and surveillance capability, extending ADS-B coverage and benefits to every flight path across the planet. The Iridium NEXT satellite network will also serve as a platform for the company's Iridium PRIME(SM) offering, a turnkey solution for hosted payloads that will offer all elements of a successful hosted payload mission, at an estimated cost savings of approximately 50 percent compared to current stand-alone solutions.