You may have read recently about SpaceX returning to flight after their September 1st anomaly. They are moving forward with the preparations for launching the first ten Iridium NEXT satellites on January 14th. This event highlights another important milestone for Aireon and our mission to provide 100 percent-global air traffic surveillance.
Weighing in at approximately 1,900 pounds per Iridium NEXT satellite, nearly 400 modules were produced to maintain the signature “cross-linked” infrastructure of the Iridium constellation that enables global, instant satellite-to-satellite communication. The Aireon ADS-B payload is approximately the size of a microwave, but still has the power to track aircraft in real-time from low earth orbit.
As the satellites progress through the assembly line they are rigorously tested at each stage, and again at the completion, to ensure they will survive the vigorous environment of the 10-minute ride on top of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Once deployed, the satellites must then also be built to survive for 12-15 years in low earth orbit. These tests are meant to simulate the life experience of the satellite by exposing it to the extreme environments of vibration and acoustics of launch, the vacuum of space and the large temperature swings of orbiting in and out of the sun every 100 minutes. These quality control measures help the engineers maintain a highly efficient and effective production process. In total, the factory hosts 18 different work stations where all 81 satellite vehicles will be assembled, integrated and tested for space.
Once the satellites are assembled and successfully pass the quality control tests, each satellite is packaged in a specially designed climate-controlled, self-stabilizing container. From that point, they are transported, two-at-a-time, via truck to SpaceX’s clean room at VAFB.
Upon arrival, SpaceX, Thales Alenia Space and Orbital ATK engineers begin the next phase in the satellites’ journey to space. This includes satellite fueling, final functional testing and the mating of each satellite with the specially designed SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket satellite dispenser system. The dispenser holds ten satellites at a time and orchestrates their final deployment into space once the rocket is in orbit. Once fully loaded with the satellites, the dispenser is covered by the launcher’s payload fairing (commonly thought of as the nose or top of the rocket). Carrying ten satellites per launch, the Iridium NEXT satellites are stacked in two tiers of five satellites, and represents one of the heaviest payloads to date for the Falcon 9 rocket at over 20,000 pounds.
The first launch is around the corner, stay tuned to Aireon 1090 Global for the latest news and events. Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter (@aireonllc) and check out our Facebook (Facebook.com/AireonLLC) page!