Iridium Communications is offering a service that provides the satellite platform developed for its Iridium Next constellation, plus on-orbit operations to customers looking for a way to fly their own missions attached to the Iridium satellites.
The Iridium Prime offering uses the same skeletal structure built by Thales Alenia Space for Iridium Next, but without the L-band communications payload needed for Iridium’s own mobile communications mission. The platform is designed to host other payloads for Earth observation, science, space surveillance, and telecommunications.
Iridium would benefit from a platform whose nonrecurring engineering costs have been amortized by Thales Alenia Space’s Iridium Next work. This would make future versions much less expensive compared with purpose-built satellite buses. Satellites purchased under the Iridium Prime program would fly in the same 700-kilometer orbit as the Iridium Next constellation. They would benefit by using Iridium’s intersatellite links and ground infrastructure.
Iridium would operate these satellites in conjunction with its current first generation of 66 satellites. The current Iridium network could accommodate up to 66 additional satellites without new spending on its ground network. The current Iridium ground network is able to handle 140 satellites as it is now. If Iridium Prime collects sufficient customers to piggy back on its launches it will be able to keep open the Thales Alenia Space production line and therefore benefit from the scale economies. Owners of multiple single-satellite and multisatellite systems generally build their own satellite structures. Iridium Prime could create demand for low-cost satellite space, will be able to negotiate better prices with launch service providers.
Iridium is investing $3 billion in Iridium Next the second generation constellation. The satellites would be launched aboard Space Exploration Technologies Falcon 9 v1.1 rockets.
Contracted Satellite owners would have access to the Iridium global network using Iridium’s intersatellite links. This is a great savings to them because they are not obligated to place Earth stations around the world and create their own network.