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07.12.2016 |

Iridium NEXT to launch with thermal insulation made in Austria

Having been in use since the late 1990s, the satellite telecommunications system Iridium® is being renewed, under the prime contractorship of Thales Alenia Space. The first ten next-generation satellites are scheduled for launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the U.S. Air Force Base in Vandenberg, California, on 16 December. RUAG Space Austria is supplying the thermal insulation for all 81 new satellites, which go by the name of “Iridium NEXT”. The renewal of the global communications satellite system is due to be completed by the end of 2017.

The Iridium telecommunications satellite network spans the Earth, providing optimum accessibility from any point on the Earth’s surface. Commissioned in 1998, the system enables worldwide voice and data transmission, even in remote areas. Now the aging satellites are being replaced progressively by a new, more modern generation of satellites. The Iridium NEXT satellites will also continue to provide worldwide broadband internet access in the future.

The Iridium NEXT satellites are to launch in tranches of 10 satellites aboard seven SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets from Vandenberg Air Force Base. The start of the first tranche is planned for 16 December. These 70 satellites are due to be launched into space by the end of 2017. They will circle the Earth at an altitude of only 780 km on six different orbits. The remaining satellites will be launched as additional in-orbit spares or stored on the Earth as back-ups.

The basis for the satellites working smoothly over their planned service life of up to 15 years is stable temperature conditions in their interior. This is achieved by means of thermal insulation supplied by RUAG Space Austria. A covering made up of several layers of wafer-thin metal-evaporated polyimide film protects the satellites against the extreme temperature variations they encounter on their orbits. Despite their relatively modest size of 3.1 x 2.4 x 1.5 m, 147 individual insulation parts are needed for each Iridium NEXT satellite.

The mostly completely different shapes and designs were developed and calculated by RUAG Space in Vienna. Production of the almost 12,000 insulation mats for the 81 Iridium NEXT satellites will continue to run until the start of 2017. This is the largest number of insulation parts for structurally identical satellites that RUAG Space has ever had to manufacture.

It was possible to carry out this contract within the required period of just 36 months only by using machine-aided, partly automated production in RUAG Space’s plant in the Lower Austrian town of Berndorf and by means of continuously optimized production flows. When it comes to shipping, cleverly designed logistics operations are also needed to ensure punctual delivery of the individual insulation parts. On behalf of the prime contractor for the satellites, Thales Alenia Space France in Cannes, the thermal insulation is delivered by RUAG Space directly to the Orbital ATK manufacturing facility in Chandler, Arizona, where it is attached to the satellites.

Having been won in tough competition, the multi-million euro contract underscores RUAG Space’s leading market position in this product segment. The industrial large-scale production methods used here come from the related product segment of thermal insulation for medical engineering devices, an area in which the company has been operating successfully for many years. With the perfected space technology application for Iridium NEXT, RUAG Space has laid a good foundation for participation in even bigger satellite constellations planned for the future.

The Payload Interface Unit, which, as part of the central computer, looks after signal transmission for steering the satellite and for aligning the antennas and controlling the temperature system, comes from RUAG Space in Sweden.