Orbital Sciences Corporation, one of the world’s leading space technology companies, announced that it has started production of 81 satellites for the Iridium NEXT program as part of a contract between Orbital and Iridium’s prime contractor, French-Italian aerospace company Thales Alenia Space. Orbital will complete the assembly, integration, test and launch support phases for this second-generation global communications satellite constellation at its satellite manufacturing facility in Gilbert, AZ. The commencement of production also signifies the opening of a Foreign Trade Zone (FTZ) at the Gilbert facility, which allows Orbital to reduce program costs by importing foreign-sourced hardware from Thales Alenia Space.
“Ten years ago, this factory was created with large scale production in mind,” said Jason Yocum, Orbital’s Senior Program Director for the Iridium NEXT production program. “Today, at the Gilbert facility, we produce cutting-edge satellites that are executed with the highest degree of excellence and professionalism. As always, we appreciate the support we have received from the Town of Gilbert as we begin to use this unique facility for its intended purpose – as an international high-rate satellite production factory.”
Orbital worked closely with the Town of Gilbert to develop the new FTZ, enabling the company to develop a highly efficient satellite production line. Orbital will integrate a total of 81 satellites for the constellation, including 66 low-Earth orbit operational satellites, six in-orbit spares, and nine ground-backup spacecraft, over the next three years. Orbital’s responsibilities also include ground support equipment, primary and hosted payload integration, shipment and launch integration services.
“We thank Orbital for their partnership and cooperation in creating Gilbert’s first Foreign Trade Zone,” said John Lewis, Mayor of Gilbert, AZ. “It takes a tremendous amount of effort to prepare for a project of this magnitude and we are excited for this international effort to be happening here in Gilbert.”
Scheduled to begin launching in 2015, Iridium NEXT will fully replace Iridium’s current satellite constellation of 66 cross-linked low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites that cover 100 percent of the globe. It will dramatically enhance Iridium’s ability to meet the rapidly-expanding demand for truly global mobile communications on land, at sea and in the skies.
“Over the past three years, our teams have been working diligently to produce the best-designed satellite and to validate that design in preparation for production,” said Scott Smith, Chief Operating Officer, Iridium Communications Inc. “Team members from all over the world have been working together to challenge the processes, build hardware for validation testing and work to make this process as efficient as possible. All of this hard work has paid off and we look forward to a steady production of high quality satellites for our new network from this facility.”