SpaceX is about to finish one of its biggest projects ever. The company announced on Tuesday that the Iridium-8 mission will launch on January 11, completing what the firm has described as one of the largest tech upgrades in history.
The launch is scheduled to take place at 7:31 a.m. Pacific time from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. SpaceX claims a 60 percent favorability rating for weather leading up to the launch. The static test fire was completed on January 6, but the launch was pushed back from its original January 8 date due to issues with the rocket.
This is the last of eight Iridium launches, a two-year $3 billion project aimed at replacing the existing satellite constellation that provides 100 percent surface coverage for mobile communications. One-by-one, the two companies have replaced the original constellation with 75 new satellites, 66 of which are operational and nine that act as spares. The team also plans to keep six additional crafts on the ground as further spares.
“Iridium NEXT is one of the largest ‘tech upgrades’ in space history,” SpaceX declared in press materials for the Iridium-7 launch in July 2018. “The process of replacing the satellites one by one in a constellation of this size and scale has never been completed before.”
In the SpaceX fan community, members commemorated the end of one of the firm’s most ambitious projects.
“It’s bittersweet, because they will close out the contract as a smashing success, but we’ll have to get used to a more 1 off launches that don’t feel as much like part of a larger whole,” a Reddit user called “frogmazog” wrote. “I hope that NASA press conferences and crew launches make up for that.”
Once complete, Iridium will be able to support new features as part of its Certus service platform. Each satellite, positioned 476 miles from Earth, will link up to four others to create a global network that routes traffic along the best possible path. This enables data speeds of up to 1.4 megabits per second, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but will provide a welcome boost for users in remote locations, on board aircraft, or in merchant vessels.
Following the launch, SpaceX won’t be standing still. Its next challenge is the uncrewed test flight for its Crew Dragon capsule, scheduled for later this month, that could be the first to send American astronauts to the International Space Station on board a commercial craft.
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