SpaceX continues to put satellites of the Iridium Next constellation into orbit
– News of April 3, 2018 –
If we look at the work done by Iridium Next and SpaceX, we could say that satellite constellations are already being put in place. In just over a year, the partnership between the two companies has put 50 telecommunications satellites into orbit. These are not SmallSats : each satellite of the Iridium Next constellation weighs more than 800 kg. They were launched in clusters of 10 by Falcon 9 rockets. It was about the same time that SpaceX began to reuse its rockets, so it took only three Falcon 9 to complete the five launches required to put into orbit the first 50 satellites of the constellation.
When completed, the new Iridium Next satellite constellation will have 72 satellites in orbit, and 9 backup satellites in the ground. These are not yet hundreds or thousands of satellites as promised by projects like OneWeb or Starlink, but we are starting to approach them. With Iridium Next, we have the beginning of the demonstration that SpaceX could be able to put into orbit a constellation of satellites. But all is not perfect : since 2010, SpaceX certainly succeeds in launching rockets but it seems that SpaceX is struggling to push the concept of reuse beyond.
Image by Emmanuel Briot / Thales Alenia Space