SpaceX Falcon 9 Launches Final Set of Iridium NEXT Satellites

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (SpaceX PR) — On Friday, January 11 at 7:31 a.m. PST, 15:31 UTC, SpaceX successfully launched the eighth and final set of satellites in a series of 75 total satellites for Iridium’s next generation global satellite constellation, Iridium NEXT.

Falcon 9’s first stage for the Iridium-8 mission previously supported the Telstar 18 VANTAGE mission in September 2018. Following stage separation, SpaceX landed Falcon 9’s first stage on the “Just Read the Instructions” droneship, which will be stationed in the Pacific Ocean.

For this eighth and final planned Iridium mission, 10 Iridium® NEXT satellites will be launched as part of the company’s campaign to replace the world’s largest commercial communication satellite network. Including the seven previous launches, all with SpaceX, Iridium is deploying 75 new satellites to orbit. In total, 81 satellites are being built, with 66 in the operational constellation, nine serving as on-orbit spares and six as ground spares.

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. The process of replacing the satellites one by one in a constellation of this size and scale has never been completed before. The new constellation is enabling innovative new products and services including Iridium Certus SM, the company’s next-generation L-band broadband solution for specialized applications, like safety services, remote monitoring, UAV and UAS command and control, tracking, and more. It also hosts the Aireon SM system, which will for the first time bring real-time, truly global aircraft surveillance and tracking to fruition.

Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California

SpaceX’s Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base has a long history dating back to the early 1960s. Originally an Atlas launch pad activated in 1962, SLC-4E was in active use until its last Titan IV launch in 2005. SpaceX’s groundbreaking was in July 2011, and extensive modifications and reconstruction of the launch pad were completed just 17 months later.

SLC-4E consists of a concrete launch pad/apron and a flame exhaust duct. Surrounding the pad are RP-1 and liquid oxygen storage tanks and an integration hangar. Before launch, Falcon 9’s stages, fairing and the mission payload are housed inside the hangar. A crane/lift system moves Falcon 9 into a transporter erector system and the fairing and its payload are mated to the rocket. The vehicle is rolled from the hangar to the launch pad shortly before launch to minimize exposure to the elements.

  • Jeff Smith

    Congrats to both Iridium and SpaceX.

    It’s kinda a bit deal that this is a 2nd gen constellation born out of the 1990s “satellite phones and SSTO” craze. While those original dreams are gone, satellite constellations ARE a profitable venture today. They have customers who get real value out of that service. We still don’t have many space-based applications (navigation, imagery, GEO telecom, a few constellations), but we need all these are more to succeed if we going to see a space economy really flourish.

  • Robert G. Oler

    The market has been far different then what was expected…and it took a bankruptcy to make it work…its unclear what the message is for Starlink and other “super constellations”

    Plus SpaceX seems to be running out of money…600 or so people out the door…

  • BeanCounterFromDownUnder

    Not necessarily. Perhaps their business is changing. Less F9 booster construction. More focuss on Starlink, Super Heavy, starship and Raptor. Looks more like workforce reorganisation brought on by changing skill-set requirements. Seen this happen in industries many times over the last 30 odd years.
    Cheers
    Neil

  • Jeff Smith

    And that 600/10% almost certainly understated the number. Having been at a defense contractor during a lay-off, they ALWAYS get rid of the contractors first. The total lay-off is generally 2-4X the publicly stated “employee” number. SpaceX used contractors as a “try before you buy” hiring method, that is problably gone now. Running a company according to the dotcom method is a risky way to go.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    Ha, I work for a company with 10s of thousands of employees that does LRs almost bi-annually and making billions of dollars.

  • Robert G. Oler

    I am sure it is larger than SpaceX is saying. The question is whre are they going with this and why. It is unclear to me that SpaceX has the money to do both Starlink and whateeer BFS is called.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Its hard to know what is going on there…they are not very transparent…but there are a lot of rumors.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Do you think that they have the money to do STarlink and BFS or whatever it is called.

  • Jeff Smith

    Very few know the real answer to that. And those who know don’t talk.

    It’ll always be Jefferson Airplane to me!

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    I think you are moving the goal post. They aren’t “running out of money”.

  • Robert G. Oler

    The USAF has an opinion…and it will always be the Airplane to me… 🙂

  • Robert G. Oler

    Not really its all one pot. Its unclear theirnumbers on Falcon reuse are real..

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    Only to people who refuse to look at reuse objectively. The refurbishment cost of F9 FT was well less than 50% of new build and that was before any optimization. This was stated by Shotwell.

    We know roughly how many people they have at the Cape, we know the wide variety of activity they are responsible for, we know the turnaround on block 5 is getting much shorter and falling. There is only so much labor cost they can accumulate with a relatively small team and quick turnaround. The financials are improving the more experience they have and more amortization of fixed reuse costs.

    In any case they just got 300M in new debt raise for Starlink and they didn’t burn it in a month so running out of cash is a joke. My guess is then needed to lean out production since they don’t need to build block 5s day and night, lots of development projects completed and a lot of facility work is also finished. They will begin to ramp new hires as needed on the projects. I’ve seen reqs open during layoffs, just a labor law compatible scheme for making a bunch of changes. Once Starlink is further along they will probably hit the debt market again to secure better terms with demonstrated progress. It’s all risky but that doesn’t mean they are close to running out of cash or reuse doesn’t close.

  • Lee

    Turn around isn’t really falling, at least not dramatically. It’s been 3-4 months for every B5 turn around. Wake me up when it gets under a month. Until then, they are clearly refurbishing, not reusing. Looks like they plan to try to turn around all 3 cores for FH this spring in ~1 month. I hope they can. I am not, however, optimistic.

  • duheagle

    SpaceX is a Silicon Valley-type company, but not a dot-com-type company. The two terms are not synonyms. Given that many of the largest and richest U.S. enterprises are Silicon Valley-esque companies, it’s hard to make a case that this is a uniquely risky approach to business. It’d be easier to make the case that it’s the least risky approach to business.

    In my experience, contractors are generally preferred when a company has a particular need but will only have such for a relatively short time. This is true regardless of the general business philosophy that governs.

    I know nothing about SpaceX’s specific uses of contractors or the scale of such use, but their use in the aerospace industry in general is very venerable. Back in the 70’s there was quite a floating cadre of “parts programmers” as they were then known who mainly worked on short-term contracts for the aerospace companies writing NC and CNC programs to produce particular parts.

    A good friend of mine was among them. He worked for Lockheed, McDonnell-Douglas, Hughes, Rocketdyne and probably some others I’ve forgotten. About half his contract work was for Rocketdyne so he lived in rented quarters near their then-HQ in Canoga Park. He worked about half of any given year and spent the rest working on his personal motorcycles and riding them in the canyon roads west of his home.

    Being a freelancer of any kind has its risks, to be sure. I’ve done freelance work myself so I have some personal knowledge of this. But so-called “permanent employment” hasn’t really existed for about three generations now either. So it’s not like there’s any definite way any particular person can guarantee themselves a turbulence-free work life.

  • duheagle

    The plan seems to be to bootstrap. Starlink will be viable for a subset of its eventual revenue-producing applications once about 800 -1,000 of the first 4,500 satellite LEO constellation is up. The Falcons will be launching those while SH-Starlink is pushed to initial operational capability. That’s maybe two years out or less.

    Quite a bit of SH-Starship’s total development expense has already been incurred. SpaceX’s current assets, plus the new loans will cover the rest plus the early phases of Starlink deployment. Revenue from the incomplete Starlink, plus the paying part of the Falcon operation, will serve to finance the rest of Starlink’s first phase. Then SH-Starship takes over Starlink deployment chores for the next 7,000 or so birds going to VLEO. That’ll all be pretty much pay-as-you-grow. By the mid-2020’s, both phases of Starlink will be fully deployed and SH-Starship will be doing other things, including going to the Moon and Mars.

  • duheagle

    SpaceX is pretty transparent. You just don’t think so because you’re convinced it’s all a Potemkin Village and they’re hiding stuff. To the paranoid, a clear glass window is opaque.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Funny. Folks are complaining that it’s takes 3-4 months to turnaround boosters that were being thrown away only a couple of years ago…

    And SpaceX booster’s landing is becoming so routine it’s becoming boring.

    But that is how it’s suppose to be as technology advances. How many of you remember when folks would line up to see a jumbo jet because it was such a sight to see 😊

  • Terry Stetler

    You did hear that the USAF Air Mobility Command is interested in BFR/Starship’s point-2-point capability?

    https://dod.defense.gov/News/Article/Article/1591975/air-mobility-command-chief-looks-toward-supplying-forces-from-space/

    “”Air Mobility Command needs rapid access to space,” the general said, and he is working with private corporations to examine the ways forward. “I just had a visit with SpaceX and Virgin Orbital,” he said. “They tell me they can get around the globe in 30 minutes with a Big Falcon Rocket.”

    “Using the rocket, the command could deliver 150 metric tons for less than the cost of a C-5 Galaxy transport jet delivery,” he said.”

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    I saw that one too, and was surprised it’s gotten so little press or mention in the blogo-sphere. Offloading cargo off a BFS is not going to be easy. Clamshells and kneeling won’t be options. However for old fashioned REFORGER style rear guard rapid deployment, it looks interesting.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Likely, once it shows a semblance of a revenue stream it could very well attract investment well out of any sane proportion to it’s future real growth such as Facebook, Amazon, or Twitter. For those who are being squeezed by the Chinese belt, and being paved over by their roads, they’ll want an alternative to their mandated use of the Chinese satellite constellation that will be coming online as well. Elon’s smart enough to pull off a Zuckerberg and attract irrational investment and maintain control. Starlink will be a good show.

  • Robert G. Oler

    they are not very transparent

  • Robert G. Oler

    I hope that your fantasy world comes true

    but turnaround isnt really falling and its unclear that the cost savings are as you indicate or Gwen is intimating.

    “We know roughly how many people they have at the Cape,

    who is “we” spacex fan boys? and you or we have no idea of the FTE that go into refurbishing

  • Robert G. Oler

    none of that has anything to do with the question of if refurbishment is profitable

  • Robert G. Oler

    lol…interested is when you put money in, serious money

  • Robert G. Oler

    Quite a bit of SH-Starship’s total development expense has already been incurred.

    maybe 10 percent, MAYBE 10 percent has been incurred

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    Yes, I can count heads in the team photo from press ops for Crew Dragon. Gives me approximation to first order. They aren’t hiding 10 thousand USA staff over there, this is bloody obvious and I’m not the only one to do this.

    Turnaround has fallen from the start, become very reliable and not spiking with late issues even when transport across coasts are involved (which is a week itself). Internally a lot less work is being done per turn, but that isn’t obvious to skeptics right now with mission turnaround time. This will change. This isn’t just Musk and Shotwell either, Mueller also gave interview describing the 24 hour turn compromise and using it as a target to minimizing touch labor. Right now it’s mostly inspections, which can be omitted as the knowledge base grows (especially for internal missions).

  • Lee

    I never said I was complaining about turn around taking 3-4 months. I actually think it’s great. What I was saying was that, unlike what the rabid fanboys have been claiming, turn around for B5 hasn’t really gone down yet.

    In typical fanboy fashion, you took a statement of facts and turned it around to imply that I am an enemy of SpaceX. Which couldn’t be further from the truth.

    Are SpaceX fanboys so insecure that they can handle no criticism of SpaceX whatsoever? It certainly seems so.

    However, time will tell. In a year or less, we’ll all know the answers to most of the debate here about turn around time.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Are critics of SpaceX so insecure that are not able to take any criticism of their constant attacks on SpaceX? It is clear that SpaceX is simply moving along the learning curve with reusing the boosters. That is to be expected and in fact shows good management style.

  • ThomasLMatula

    That is something that only SpaceX and its shareholders need to know.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    This sentiment will not age well.

  • Lee

    My comments were not an attack. They were statements of fact.

  • duheagle

    It’s easy to tell you’re a Democrat. You think repeating something enough times will magically make it true.

  • duheagle

    Yes. Next question.

  • duheagle

    Your implicit assumption is that it takes the entire interval between uses to turn a booster stage around. I, and others here, don’t think so. We’ll probably have to wait until Starlink deployment launches start in earnest to see these between-uses intervals come down a lot. Even then, the minimum interval may still be more constrained by Starlink satellite production rates than by booster turnaround requirements. It would likely require SpaceX actually relaunching a booster within, say, less than a week to settle this for sure – and even then Oler won’t acknowledge reality.

    It’s hardly ironclad proof, of course, but I think it’s interesting that this much-discussed 10% layoff at SpaceX is coming shortly after the first F9 Block 5 1st stage ever flown was retrieved following its third launch. SpaceX doubtless has minutely detailed post-flight inspection records of this stage following all three of its launches. My suspicion is that the incremental wear and tear attributable to each mission is even less than projected and this has allowed SpaceX to cut future production requirements accordingly. It seems pretty clear that F9/H production personnel and carbon fiber composite technicians currently on SpaceX’s payroll are now clearly in excess of recently revised requirements.

  • Lee

    I base my assumption on the fact that there have been SpaceX B5 launches much closer together than 3-4 months. Given that that is the case, I would assume that if it were possible, SX would have launched one with less delay, just to show they could. After all, Musk has been preaching exactly that. They have not done so.

    As I said above, we’ll know later this year when they plan to turn around all three cores for FH in ~1 month.

  • duheagle

    I agree that the proof of this particular pudding is yet to be incontrovertibly established. I expect the coming year to provide a lot of useful data points.