Space Explorations Technologies (SpaceX) recently won a contract with Iridium Communications Inc. to launch the Iridium NEXT fleet of satellites into space in the largest ever commercial space launch contract with any single entity. Iridium has an existing constellation of satellites which it maintains to provide a satellite phone service with worldwide coverage. This new contract will involve six launches of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket to place 72 Iridium NEXT satellites in orbit, positioned over the globe to provide uninterrupted satellite phone service.
The first launch is scheduled to take place in 2015, and the entire contract is worth $3 Billion. There has been a lot of controversy about recent American decisions to offload much of NASA’s current workload to private contractors like SpaceX. This contract seems to show that upstart new companies are not only up to the task, but can do so significantly cheaper than the incumbent providers. Which is good news for all of us in the long term!