Iridium Chooses SpaceX To Launch Satellites

Space Exploration Technologies will transport mobile telecommunications satellites into space over a 2-year period starting in 2015.
Space Exploration Technologies has signed a $492 million deal to carry Iridium Communications' mobile telecommunications satellites into space starting in 2015.

Space Exploration, better known as SpaceX, said Wednesday that the deal represents "the largest single commercial launch deal ever signed." Iridium provides mobile voice and data services around the globe.

The companies did not say how many satellites would be launched aboard SpaceX's new Falcon 9 rocket, which will carry Iridium's payload from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The deal covers a two-year period starting in 2015.

Iridium's new NEXT satellites will replace its current satellite constellation. The company plans to launch multiple NEXT satellites on Falcon 9, which is expected to release the satellites on a low-Earth orbit.

Iridium is also in discussions with other launch service providers to carry NEXT satellites into space. The total cost of launching the next-generation satellites is $2.9 billion, Iridium says.

SpaceX is a private company founded in 2002 by Elon Musk, co-founder of the PayPal electronic payment service. The company achieved a milestone in commercial spaceflight nearly a year ago when it successfully launched a Malaysian satellite into orbit. The RazakSAT satellite takes high-resolution images of the country to help in land management, conservation efforts, and fish migration and forestry studies.

According to a joint statement by Iridium and SpaceX, the latter company currently has 24 Falcon 9 flights scheduled ahead of Iridium. SpaceX customers include governments and businesses.

SpaceX, based in Hawthorne, Calif., completed a successful test launch of the Falcon 9 June 4. The medium-to-heavy lift, two-stage rocket is capable of lifting about 11 tons into low-Earth orbit. NASA recently selected the Falcon 9 and SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft to re-supply the International Space Station starting next year. The $1.6 billion contract covers a total of 12 flights.