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Iridium signs reseller pact with Astrium

 - June 19, 2007, 4:15 AM

Iridium, the Bethesda, Maryland-based satellite communications provider, has signed an agreement with Astrium Services that will see the latter, an EADS, subsidiary, becoming a value-added reseller of satellite communication equipment and services to its civil and defense customers worldwide.

Eric Beranger, chief executive of Astrium Services, said, “This agreement will allow us to integrate Iridium into our mix of satellite and telecommunications packages…Iridium’s reliable low-latency satellite links will provide an important augmentation to our military satcom programs and other satellite networks.”
The company will also become the Iridium “center of excellence” within the EADS group and will package Iridium solutions for other EADS Astrium companies for a variety of applications.

The agreement comes hot on the heels of two sales successes for Iridium in the helicopter market, both announced in early June. First, Air Logistics selected Iridium for its offshore oil operations, which will see 125 aircraft equipped with satellite communications and automatic flight-following equipment.

A week later, on June 14, the company announced that SkyTrac Systems, an existing Iridium reseller, won contracts with several helicopter operators around the world to provide similar systems–including Yellowhead Helicopters, Skyline Helicopters and Pacific Western Helicopters (all based in British Columbia, Canada); Calgary City Police Air Services and Los Angeles County Fire Department in the U.S.; and Brunei Shell Petroleum Co.

Kathleen Wallace, president and chief executive of SkyTrac Systems, said, “Our newly redesigned Dispatch Voice Interface, as well as our proprietary FlightTrac software suite, including our new SkyWeb Internet solution, meets the needs of today’s helicopter fleet operators.”

Capt. Stephen Fincken, helicopter fleet replacement leader for Brunei Shell Petroleum, said, “It was important for us to find a one-stop solution without compromising our stringent computer security policies. SkyTrac was willing to provide us with a global turnkey solution.”

Avionica Wins Order
Meanwhile, in the commercial aircraft market, Miami-based Avionica has won an order from Continental Airlines to fit Iridium satellite communications systems to nine Boeing 737-800s. The aircraft will be fitted with Avionica’s satLINK system, which uses the Iridium satellite network and includes antenna, wiring, structural elements and a control panel.

Initial installation will include an Iridium phone in the cockpit and is expected to be followed by a mid-year upgrade that would add a wireless cabin handset and full integration with the aircraft’s communications management unit (CMU).

 “We are introducing satLINK to supplement other terrestrial and satellite systems, which are becoming overburdened with heavy traffic,” said Raul Segredo, president of Avionica.

Continental has also selected Arinc’s GlobaLink service, which operates over the Iridium network, to transfer ACARS (aircraft communication addressing and reporting system) messages to and from the aircraft.

According to Jun Tsurata, senior director of technical purchasing for Continental, “The application of satcom services will eliminate the sole dependency on standard radio communication methods which are subject to range considerations over isolated areas.” Greg Ewert, Iridium executive vice president, added: “Only Iridium’s service area is truly worldwide with ubiquitous gap-free coverage, even over the extreme polar regions.” The Iridium satellite constellation consists of 66 satellites in low-Earth orbit.

Iridium Next Network Taking Shape

Iridium won’t be making partner announcements for a planned future replacement satellite network until sometime later this year, but the satellite operator has confirmed that the forthcoming Iridium Next constellation will include broadband data-delivery capability as a key component.

The plan is to provide connection download speeds as high as 10 megabits per second for aero users through the use of Ka-band satellite technology. Users on the ground might receive data streams of as high as 30 megabits per second, Iridium says. The current Iridium satellite network is capable of transmitting only low-rate data.

Also high on the list of capabilities, the Next service is wide-area broadcast of aviation weather graphics and information, which airline and business jet crews could access anywhere around the world. The new Iridium might even be suitable for augmentation or backup of GPS signals, the company said, as well as other uses yet to be disclosed.

To help Iridium recoup some of the estimated $2.2 billion to build the Next constellation, the company is considering launching its satellites with secondary payloads paid for by outside companies. The first satellite launches for the Next constellation are predicted to begin in 2013 and finish around 2017, the company said. Currently, Boeing operates 66 satellites and another nine spares for Iridium from a satellite network operations center in Leesburg, Virginia, not far from Iridium’s Bethesda, Maryland headquarters. The Next constellation will also use 66 satellites plus spares.