Iridium Next Satellites To Be Integrated

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WASHINGTON — Integration of Iridium‘s next-generation mobile communications satellites will be done in the United States even if the current two-way competition to build them ends with a European winner, Iridium Chief Executive Matt Desch said March 26.

Speaking during the Satellite 2009 conference here, Desch said U.S. technology export regulations would make it difficult to integrate the 66 Iridium Next satellites in France or Italy, which is where the platforms would be built if Thales Alenia Space wins the competition.

Thales Alenia Space has a small-satellite integration facility near Rome that was built for programs like Iridium. The satellite builder is competing with Lockheed Martin for the Iridium job.

In addition to its core two-way voice and data communications services, Iridium is trying to sell capacity on its satellites to numerous government and commercial customers in the United States and internationally. The U.S. Department of Defense, which is one of those potential customers, would be uncomfortable having its payload electronics integrated onto the Iridium satellites in Italy.

Reynald Seznec, chief executive of Thales Alenia Space, said March 26 that the company already has signed an agreement with a U.S. partner to use that company’s U.S. facility to integrate the Iridium satellites should Thales Alenia Space win the contract. He did not name the company.

Iridium is expected to decide later this year on a builder of its second-generation system, which Iridium has estimated will cost $2.7 billion. Iridium estimates that its current satellites will remain healthy enough to provide full commercial service until 2014.

Desch said the decision to integrate the Iridium Next satellites in the United States, even if most of the components are built in Europe, would not have any material cost consequence for the program. Seznec said it actually could help the program because it would give it a natural hedge against future fluctuations in value between the U.S. dollar and the euro.