Transforming the future of global communications is no small undertaking.

Expected to begin launching in 2015, Iridium NEXT is our next-generation satellite constellation and the world’s largest ongoing commercial space venture. It is designed to drive innovation, create opportunities and change the way people and organizations communicate — everywhere on the planet.

Iridium NEXT will replace the current constellation while retaining the 66 satellite LEO (low-Earth orbit) architecture, with six in-orbit spares and nine ground spares. Every component is designed for maximum longevity and to support a seamless transition from the existing satellite constellation to the new constellation.

The Iridium NEXT Mission Team

Iridium understands the complexity of an initiative of this scope, which it why it has brought together the best and brightest minds in the industry: The Iridium NEXT Mission Team. This amazing group of aerospace and telecommunications engineers and managers has hundreds of years of collective experience — and the expertise to make it all happen.

From cross-linked antennas to L-band TR modules, the success of the Iridium NEXT program depends on components designed, manufactured and assembled by individual team members located all around the world.

Over the coming months, we will work to highlight some of the amazing efforts that are underway by Iridium NEXT Mission Team members. Kicking us off are two examples of key components being developed by Thales Alenia Space:

L-Band TR Module

L-band TR modules are miniature marvels of engineering that generate and amplify low-level Radio Frequency (RF) signals in order to make possible the transmission and receipt of communications between the satellite’s MMA and earth-based subscriber equipment (phones, SBD devices, Iridium Pilot® terminals, etc.). They also electronically steer the individual “beamlets” formed from each of the antenna’s 120 radiating elements that get combined to produce the 48 traffic-carrying beams each satellite puts out over its Earth coverage footprint.

The L-Band TR module is a small but important component of the main mission antenna (MMA). The MMA will enable pole-to-pole coverage for voice and data and for Iridium OpenPort® broadband services.

Solar Array

It takes a team to develop a state-of-the-art solar array. A Japanese company, Mitsubishi Electric Co, builds the panels for each solar array, which are then populated with solar cells from Spectrolab in the USA. Thales Alenia Space is responsible for integrating the panels along with other associated equipment to build up the full solar array assemblies.

All of the pieces come together to form an integral part of the constellation, as the solar array produces and delivers electrical power to the satellite to operate its equipment and to keep its lithium-ion batteries charged. When the satellite is in the Earth’s shadow the array produces no power and all of the electrical loads are handled by the batteries. The solar array is hardened against radiation, just like the rest of the satellite.


When it comes to the Iridium NEXT Mission Team, the sum of the parts is truly greater than the whole. Stay tuned for insights into other important contributions from Iridium partners as the program moves through detailed design, completion of segment development, and eventfully vehicle and system level integration and testing.