Air Force Still Has Time To Add Sensor to Iridium Next

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The U.S. Air Force still has time, but not much, to close a deal to add a space environment monitoring capability to the Iridium Next commercial communications satellite constellation slated to begin launching in 2015, industry officials said.

The 66 Iridium Next satellites already are slated to carry a hosted payload provided by Harris Corp. to enable commercial aircraft flying transoceanic routes to take more efficient routes and thereby save on fuel costs. The project, dubbed Aireon, is a joint venture between Iridium Communications and Nav Canada, which is that country’s air traffic management provider.

But even with production phase for the constellation fast approaching, there remains time to include additional hosted payloads, provided they can be accommodated aboard the Harris-supplied box that will enable the Aireon service, according to Scott Smith, Iridium’s executive vice president for technology development and satellite operations.

Janet Nickloy, director of aerospace mission solutions for Harris’ Government Communications Systems group, said the Air Force is interested in placing dosimeters to measure space radiation aboard the Iridium Next satellites, whose primary mission is to provide voice and data communications throughout the globe. She acknowledged that the window for doing so is closing quickly, but was cautiously optimistic that the project would go forward.

William H. Gattle, vice president of aerospace systems for Harris Government Communications, said the sensor would enable the Air Force to distinguish between naturally occurring radiation due to events such as solar flares from man-made emissions including attempts to jam satellite communications services.