Earlier this month Iridium reached a preliminary agreement for $1.8 billion to finance its Next constellation of advanced low orbit communications satellites, slated for launch beginning in 2015. A syndicate of nine international banks is providing the financing.
Launch of the 66 Next satellites and seven spares will be handled by SpaceX from the Vandenberg Spaceport in southern California. The satellites will be constructed by Thales Alenia Space and managed by Boeing. The new satellites will provide more capacity, higher data rates and flexible bandwidth. Ahead of the launch, Iridium is beginning to move into new markets including LiveTV, flight data recorder streaming and alerting, and Future Air Navigation Systems (Fans), which enables reduced separation and more direct routing.
Operational trials of Iridium Fans by Continental Micronesia and Cargolux have been completed. Greg Ewert, Iridium executive vice president, sees Fans as a key growth area for the company, especially among a large share of its 24,000 general aviation subscribers.
The Next system, Ewert said, will have backward compatibility with existing technology. "There won't be any stranded equipment" with the new satellites, he said.
Iridium's finances appear stable. During the second quarter of this year, the company posted revenues of $84 million, a modest increase from the same period a year ago, with increases in commercial and government revenue sectors. For the current year, Iridium expects a 20 percent growth in billable subscribers.