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Gilbert company satellites are ready to launch

The Iridium NEXT satellite. (Iridium Photo)

PHOENIX — The first two Iridium NEXT satellites have rolled off the assembly line and are being shipped to California for launch in three months.

“Our satellites are done and ready to go. They’re ready for space,” said Iridium Communications, Inc. Chief Executive Officer Matt Desch of the latest generation of Iridium communications satellites,

Desch announced the milestone achievement Monday in Gilbert, Arizona. He said the Iridium NEXT satellites are being produced in Gilbert on an assembly line, a method he calls unique in the industry. Desch said the work has taken more than seven years to complete.

“It is high volume manufacturing of satellites on a moving line, moving across, and really is the way, in many ways, that the Space 2.0 industry is talking about making satellites,” said Desch.

A total of 81 satellites are scheduled to roll off of the assembly line, with 66 serving as the operational satellites to replace the existing Iridium network and the remainder serving as ground and on-orbit spares.

Desch said each satellite goes through a rigorous testing program that includes both hardware and software.

“Each batch of Iridium NEXT satellites will be launched into orbit on the back of a Space X Falcon 9 rocket,” said Desch. “In total, there are seven launches with SpaceX, each carrying ten Iridium NEXT satellites into orbit.”

Thales Alenia Space and Orbital ATK Space Systems Group are working with Iridium on the satellites.

“Pretty soon, one satellite a week, out this factory door. (That’s) an amazing achievement for satellite production,” said Framk Culbertson, president of Orbital ATK, noting that the companies were “breaking some ground and setting some good examples.”

A nighttime launch is set for September 12, from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

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