Production on 81 satellites for the Iridium NEXT programme has begun, at the Orbital Sciences Corporation satellite manufacturing facility in Gilbert, Arizona, in the United States.

Orbital will manage production of the satellites under a contract between itself and Iridium’s prime contractor on NEXT, French-Italian aerospace company Thales Alenia Space.

This will include integration of a total of 81 satellites for the constellation, including 66 low-Earth orbit operational satellites, six in-orbit spares, and nine ground-backup spacecraft, over the next three years.

Orbital’s responsibilities under the project also include ground support equipment, primary and hosted payload integration, shipment and launch integration services.

Scheduled to begin launching in 2015, Iridium NEXT will fully replace Iridium’s current satellite constellation of 66 cross-linked low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites that cover 100 per cent of the globe.
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