WASHINGTON — Thales Alenia Space, one of two competitors to build 66 next-generation mobile communications satellites for Iridium Communications, has selected Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp. as its integration partner on the program, Ball announced Oct. 26.

Under the arrangement, Ball would perform final integration and testing of the satellites at its Boulder, Colo., facilities, the company said. Ball will process as many as four Iridium Next satellites at a time while also advising Thales Alenia of possible hosted payload opportunities aboard the craft, the press release said.

Thales Alenia Space of France and Italy is competing against Denver-based Lockheed Martin Space Systems to build the $2.7 billion Iridium Next constellation, which is slated to begin replacing the current Iridium satellites around 2014. The contract award has been delayed repeatedly and Iridium Chief Executive Matt Desch recently said the selection date could be pushed into early 2010.

The U.S. Department of Defense is a major customer of Iridium’s mobile satellite services, and the company is exploring opportunities to host dedicated payloads for the military and others aboard its next-generation system. Citing tough U.S. export regulations governing the technology involved, Desch said in March the spacecraft would undergo final integration in the United States even if Thales Alenia Space were to win the prime contract.

At the time, a Thales Alenia Space executive said the company had an integration agreement with a U.S. company but declined to be more specific.

Warren Ferster is the Editor-in-Chief of SpaceNews and is responsible for all the news and editorial coverage in the weekly newspaper, the spacenews.com Web site and variety of specialty publications such as show dailies. He manages a staff of seven reporters...