Iridium selects Thales Alenia to build its satellites

IridiumNEXT satellite by Thales Alenia

It looks like Iridium’s CEO Matt Desch wasn’t just going to ring the NASDAQ bell for no good reason. Iridium Communications has just announced its selection of the vendor for building of its 81 satellites for the next-generation satellite network, aka IridiumNEXT. After almost two years of consideration, Thales Alenia, a French-Italian aerospace conglomerate, has been selected over the US-based Lockheed Martin Corp. Both companies arguably build great satellites (Lockheed Martin is reported to have participated in creating theĀ  current Iridium satellite fleet), but this deal might have been decided by the French government agreeing to guarantee 95% of the $1.8 billion credit facility required to complete the project.

The plan is to have the first launch in the first quarter of 2015 with total 81 satellites to be built: 66 operating satellites, 6 spare units in orbit for rapid deployment and 9 spares on the ground. The selection of the launch company is yet to be announced.

More information from PRNewsWire.com

Analysis by Tim Farrar (TMF Associates)

Iridium needs to launch new satellites?

A Chicago-area Daily Herald had an interesting article on Motorola and its ill-fated Iridium satellite venture in the 1990s. Motorola spent $5 billion building this mobile satellite network just to see it go bust in just a year after start of operations in 1998. Motorola has since been battling the financial consequences in the courts, while the new Iridium Satellite LLC enjoys increasing revenues ($200M in 2006?) and subscriber base (about 162,000) and plans to replace its aging fleet of 66 low-earth-orbiting (LEO) satellites by 2013.

Something wrong must be here. LEO satellites usually have about 5-7 years of lifetime. Iridium launched its satellites in the late 90s and they are now long overdue for replacement and could start falling off the sky any minute. Another issue could be the money needed to build and launch new satellites. With competition increasing, it may not bee easy for find another Motorola to invest and/or lend resources for such a cause. We’ll see…