Iridium satellite constellation
Replica of a first-generation Iridium satellite
|Manufacturer||Motorola (Original constellation) - Thales Alenia Space (NEXT constellation)|
|Country of origin||USA|
|Bus||LM-700(Original) - EliteBus1000(NEXT)|
|Launch mass||689 kilograms (1,519 lb)|
|Power||2 deployable solar panels+batteries|
|Regime||Low Earth Orbit|
|Launched||95 (Original) - 30 (NEXT)|
|Operational||72 (66 in active service
|First launch||Iridium 4,5,6,7,8 on 5 May 1997|
|Last launch||9 October 2017 |
The Iridium satellite constellation provides voice and data coverage to satellite phones, pagers and integrated transceivers over the Earth's entire surface. Iridium Communications owns and operates the constellation, additionally selling equipment and access to its services. It was originally conceived by Bary Bertiger, Raymond J. Leopold and Ken Peterson in late 1987 (and protected by patents by Motorola in their names in 1988) and then developed by Motorola on a fixed-price contract from July 29, 1993, to November 1, 1998, when the system became operational and commercially available.
The constellation consists of 66 active satellites in orbit required for global coverage, and additional spare satellites to serve in case of failure. Satellites are in low Earth orbit at a height of approximately 485 mi (781 km) and inclination of 86.4°. Orbital velocity of the satellites is approximately 17,000 mph (27,000 km/h). Satellites communicate with neighboring satellites via Ka band inter-satellite links. Each satellite can have four inter-satellite links: one each to neighbors fore and aft in the same orbital plane, and one each to satellites in neighboring planes to either side. The satellites orbit from pole to same pole with an orbital period of roughly 100 minutes. This design means that there is excellent satellite visibility and service coverage especially at the North and South poles. The over-the-pole orbital design produces "seams" where satellites in counter-rotating planes next to one another are traveling in opposite directions. Cross-seam inter-satellite link hand-offs would have to happen very rapidly and cope with large Doppler shifts; therefore, Iridium supports inter-satellite links only between satellites orbiting in the same direction. The constellation of 66 active satellites has six orbital planes spaced 30 degrees apart, with 11 satellites in each plane (not counting spares). The original concept was to have 77 satellites, which is where the name Iridium came from, being the element with the atomic number 77 and the satellites evoking the Bohr model image of electrons orbiting around the Earth as its nucleus. This reduced set of six planes is sufficient to cover the entire Earth's surface at every moment.
Because of the shape of the Iridium satellites' reflective antennas, the satellites focus sunlight on a small area of the Earth's surface in an incidental manner. This results in an effect called Iridium flares, where the satellite momentarily appears as one of the brightest objects in the night sky and can be seen even during daylight.
The Iridium satellite constellation was conceived in the early 1990s, as a way to reach high Earth latitudes with reliable satellite communication services.
Early "calculations showed that 77 satellites would be needed, hence the name Iridium – after the metal with atomic number 77. It turned out that just 66 were required" to complete the blanket coverage of the planet with communication services.
The constellation was launched to orbit in the late 1990s and the first telephone call was made over the network in 1998. However, although the system met its technical requirements, it was not a success in the market. Insufficient market demand existed for the product at the price points on offer from Iridium as set by its parent company Motorola. The company failed to earn revenue sufficient to service the debt associated with building out the constellation and Iridium went bankrupt, the largest bankruptcy in US history at the time.
The constellation continued following the bankruptcy of the original Iridium corporation. A new entity emerged to operate the satellites and developed a different product placement and pricing strategy, offering communication services to a niche market of customers who required reliable services of this type in areas of the planet not covered by traditional geosynchronous orbit communication satellite services. Users include journalists, explorers, and military units.
The satellites each contain seven Motorola/Freescale PowerPC 603E processors running at roughly 200 MHz, connected by a custom backplane network. One processor is dedicated to each cross-link antenna ("HVARC"), and two processors ("SVARC"s) are dedicated to satellite control, one being a spare. Late in the project an extra processor ("SAC") was added to perform resource management and phone call processing.
The cellular look down antenna has 48 spot beams arranged as 16 beams in three sectors. The four inter-satellite cross links on each satellite operate at 10 Mbit/s. Optical links could have supported a much greater bandwidth and a more aggressive growth path, but microwave cross links were chosen because their bandwidth was more than sufficient for the desired system. Nevertheless, a parallel optical cross link option was carried through a critical design review, and ended when the microwave cross links were shown to support the size, weight and power requirements allocated within the individual satellite's budget. Iridium Satellite LLC has stated that their second generation satellites would also use microwave, not optical, inter-satellite communications links. Such cross-links are unique in the satellite telephone industry, as other providers do not relay data between satellites; Globalstar and Inmarsat both use a bent-pipe architecture without cross-links.
The original design as envisioned in the 1960s was that of a completely static "dumb satellite" with a set of control messages and time-triggers for an entire orbit that would be uploaded as the satellite passed over the poles. It was found that this design did not have enough bandwidth in the space-based backhaul to upload each satellite quickly and reliably over the poles. Moreover, fixed, static scheduling would have left more than 90% of the satellite links idle at all times. Therefore, the design was scrapped in favor of a design that performed dynamic control of routing and channel selection late in the project, resulting in a one-year delay in system delivery.
Each satellite can support up to 1100 concurrent phone calls at 2400 bit/s and weighs about 1,500 lb (680 kg). The Iridium System presently operates within a 1618.85 to 1626.5 MHz band adjacent to the 1610.6–1613.8 MHz Radio Astronomy Service (RAS) band.
The configuration of the Satellite concept was designated as Triangular Fixed, 80 Inch Main Mission Antenna, Light-weight (TF80L). The packaging design of the spacecraft was managed by Lockheed Bus Spacecraft team, it was the first commercial satellite bus designed at the Sunnyvale Space Systems Division in California. The TF80L configuration was considered a non-conventional, innovative approach to developing a satellite design that could be assembled and tested in five days. The TF80L design configuration was also instrumental in simultaneously solving fundamental design problems involving optimization of the communications payload thermal environment, RF main mission antenna performance while achieving the highest payload fairing packaging for each of the three main launch vehicle providers.
The first spacecraft mock-up of this design was built in the garage workshop in Santa Clara, California for the Bus PDR/CDR as a proof-of-concept model. This first prototype paved the way for the design and construction of the first engineering models. This design was the basis of the largest constellation of satellites deployed in low earth orbit . After ten years of successful on-orbit performance, the Iridium team celebrated the equivalent of 1,000 cumulative years of on-orbit performance in 2008. One of the engineering Iridium satellite models was placed on permanent exhibit in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington DC.
Spare satellites are usually held in a 414 mi (666 km) storage orbit. These will be boosted to the correct altitude and put into service in case of a satellite failure. After the Iridium company emerged from bankruptcy the new owners decided to launch seven new spares, which would have ensured two spare satellites were available in each plane. As of 2009[update], not every plane has a spare satellite; however, the satellites can be moved to a different plane if required. A move can take several weeks and consumes fuel which will shorten the satellite's expected service life.
Significant orbital plane changes are normally very fuel-intensive, but orbital perturbations aid the process. The Earth's equatorial bulge causes the orbital right ascension of the ascending node (RAAN) to precess at a rate that depends mainly on the period and inclination. The Iridium satellites have an inclination of 86.4°, which places every satellite in a prograde (inclination < 90°) orbit. This causes their equator crossings to steadily precess westward.
A spare Iridium satellite in the lower storage orbit has a shorter period so its RAAN moves westward more quickly than the satellites in the standard orbit. Iridium simply waits until the desired RAAN (i.e., the desired orbital plane) is reached and then raises the spare satellite to the standard altitude, fixing its orbital plane with respect to the constellation. Although this saves substantial amounts of fuel, it can be a time-consuming process.
As of mid-2016, Iridium has experienced in-orbit failures which cannot be corrected with in-orbit spare satellites, thus only 64 of the 66 satellites required for seamless global coverage are in operation. Therefore, service interruptions can be observed, especially around the equatorial region where the satellite footprints are most spread out and there is least overlap.
Iridium is launching during 2017 and 2018,    Iridium NEXT, a second-generation worldwide network of telecommunications satellites, consisting of 66 satellites, with six in-orbit spares and nine on-ground spares. These satellites will incorporate features such as data transmission which were not emphasized in the original design. The original plan was to begin launching new satellites in 2014. The constellation will provide L-band data speeds of up to 128 kbit/s to mobile terminals, up to 1.5 Mbit/s to Iridium Pilot marine terminals, and high-speed Ka band service of up to 8 Mbit/s to fixed/transportable terminals.
The satellites will incorporate a secondary payload for Aireon, Inc., a space-qualified ADS-B data receiver. This is for use by air traffic control and, via FlightAware, for use by airlines. A second secondary payload on 58 satellites is a marine AIS ship tracker receiver.
Iridium can also be used to provide a data link to other satellites in space, enabling command and control of other space assets regardless of the position of ground stations and gateways.
The existing constellation of satellites is expected to remain operational until Iridium NEXT is fully operational, with many satellites expected to remain in service until the 2020s. Iridium is planning for the next generation of satellites to have improved bandwidth. This system will be backward compatible with the current system. In August 2008, Iridium selected two companies—Lockheed Martin and Thales Alenia Space—to participate in the final phase of the procurement of the next generation satellite constellation. On June 2, 2010, the winner of the contract was announced as Thales Alenia Space, in a $2.1 billion deal underwritten by Compagnie Française d'Assurance pour le Commerce Extérieur. Iridium additionally stated that it expected to spend about $800 million to launch the satellites and upgrade some ground facilities.
In June 2010, Iridium signed the largest commercial rocket launch deal ever at that time, a US$492 million contract with SpaceX to launch 70 Iridium NEXT satellites on seven Falcon 9 rockets from 2015 to 2017 via the Vandenberg Air Force Base. The final two satellites will be orbited by a single launch of an ISC Kosmotras Dnepr. Technical issues and consequential demands from Iridium’s insurance delayed the launch of the first pair of Iridium NEXT satellites until April 2016.
Iridium NEXT launch plans originally included launch of satellites on both Russian Dnepr launch vehicles as well as SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicles, with the initial satellites launching on Dnepr in April 2016; however, in February 2016, Iridium announced a change. Due to an extended slowdown in obtaining the requisite launch licenses from Russian authorities, Iridium revamped the entire launch sequence for the 72-satellite constellation. It launched and successfully deployed 10 satellites with SpaceX January 14, 2017, delayed due to weather from January 9, 2017, and the first of those new satellites took over the duties of an old satellite on March 11, 2017.
At the time of the launch of the first batch, the second flight of 10 was planned to launch only three months later, in April 2017. However, in a February 15 statement, Iridium said SpaceX pushed back the launch of its second batch of Iridium NEXT satellites from mid-April to mid-June 2017. This second launch, which occurred on June 25, 2017, delivered another ten Iridium NEXT satellites to low-Earth-orbit (LEO) on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. A Third launch, which occurred on October 9, 2017 delivered another 10 Satellites, as planned to LEO. SpaceX is targeting five subsequent Iridium NEXT launches approximately every two months thereafter.
Patents and manufacturing
The main patents on the Iridium system, U.S. Patents 5,410,728: "Satellite cellular telephone and data communication system", and 5,604,920, are in the field of satellite communications, and the manufacturer generated several hundred patents protecting the technology in the system. Satellite manufacturing initiatives were also instrumental in the technical success of the system. Motorola made a key hire of the engineer who set up the automated factory for Apple's Macintosh. He created the technology necessary to mass-produce satellites on a gimbal, taking weeks instead of months or years and at a record low construction cost of only US$5 million per satellite. At its peak during the launch campaign in 1997 and 1998, Motorola produced a new satellite every 4.3 days, with the lead-time of a single satellite being 21 days.[non-primary source needed]
Motorola used launch vehicles from three companies from three different countries—the Delta II from McDonnell Douglas; the Proton-K from Khrunichev in Russia; and the Long March IIC from China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation.
Visualisation of Iridium Satellites
Visualisation (based on actual TLE data) of the Iridium Constellation can be seen at https://www.iridium.online
Over the years several Iridium satellites have ceased to work and are no longer in active service, some are partially functional and have remained in orbit whereas others have tumbled out of control or have reentered the atmosphere.
Iridium 21, 27, 20, 11, 24, 71, 44, 14, 79, 69 and 85 all suffered from issues before entering operational service soon after their launch in 1997. Of these, Iridium 27, 79 and 85 have since decayed out of orbit; Iridium 11, 14, 20 and 21 have been since renamed to Iridium 911, 914, 920 and 921 respectively since replacements of the same name were launched.
From 2017, several 1st generation Iridium satellites have been deliberately de-orbited after being replaced by operational Iridium NEXT satellites.
|List of defunct Iridium satellites previously in operating service|
|Iridium 2||?||?||Uncontrolled orbit|
|Iridium 73||~1998||Iridium 75||Uncontrolled orbit|
|Iridium 48||May 2001||Iridium 20||Decayed May 2001|
|Iridium 9||October 2000||Iridium 84||Decayed March 2003|
|Iridium 38||September 2003||Iridium 82||Uncontrolled orbit|
|Iridium 16||April 2005||Iridium 86||Uncontrolled orbit|
|Iridium 17||August 2005||Iridium 77||Uncontrolled orbit|
|Iridium 74||January 2006||Iridium 21||In orbit as spare|
|Iridium 36||January 2007||Iridium 97||Uncontrolled orbit|
|Iridium 28||July 2008||Iridium 95||In orbit|
|Iridium 33||February 2009||Iridium 91||Destroyed February 2009
(Collided with Kosmos 2251)
|Iridium 26||August 2011||Iridium 11||In orbit|
|Iridium 7||July 2012||Previously Iridium 51*||Presumed partially operational|
|Iridium 4||2012||Iridium 96||In orbit|
|Iridium 29||Early 2014||Iridium 45||In orbit|
|Iridium 42||August 2014||Iridium 98||Uncontrolled orbit|
|Iridium 63||August 2014||Iridium 14||In orbit|
|Iridium 6||October 2014||*Iridium 51||In orbit|
|Iridium 57||May 2016||Iridium 121||Observed drifting from nominal position|
|Iridium 39||June 2016||Iridium 15||In orbit|
|Iridium 74||June 2017||(spare)||Decayed June 2017|
|Iridium 30||August 2017||Iridium 126||Decayed September 2017|
|Iridium 77||August 2017||Iridium 109||Decayed September 2017|
Iridium 33 collision
|Wikinews has news coverage of the 2009 satellite collision|
At 16:56 UTC on February 10, 2009, Iridium 33 collided with the defunct Russian satellite Kosmos 2251. This was the first time two intact satellites collided. Iridium 33 was in active service when the accident took place but was one of the oldest satellites in the constellation, having been launched in 1997. The satellites collided at a relative speed of roughly 35,000 km/h (22,000 miles per hour) This collision created large amounts of debris that can be hazardous to other satellites. The debris can cause Kessler syndrome that can destroy the modern- day infrastructure of satellites.
Iridium moved one of its in-orbit spares, Iridium 91 (formerly known as Iridium 90) to replace the destroyed satellite, completing the move on March 4, 2009.
- Mobile-satellite service
- Satellite phone
- Globalsat Group
- O3b Networks
- SES Broadband for Maritime
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- Iridium Satellite LLC corporate web site
- Iridium satellite tracking
- Iridium satellite phone descriptions
- Sky Rocket
- http://www.heavens-above.com - predicts flares from antennas of Iridium satellites only.
- http://www.calsky.com - predicts flares also from solar panels of Iridium satellites, and flares from some non-Iridium satellites. Also predicts the passes of tumbling satellites.
- Media related to Iridium flares at Wikimedia Commons