Boeing Defense, Space and Security of St. Louis, will provide system integration and testing support for the Iridium Next constellation of low orbiting communications satellites under a contract with Thales Alenia Space, the prime contractor on the program.

Thales Alenia Space of France and Italy is building 81 next-generation satellites, including 15 spares, for Iridium Communications of McLean, Va., under a contract valued at $2.1 billion. The Iridium Next satellites are slated to begin replacing the current-generation Iridium satellites in 2016.

In a June 9 press release, Boeing, which operates the Iridium satellites and will have a similar role on Iridium Next, said its Mission Operations Group would perform the integration and test support work at locations in Leesburg, Va., and Chandler, Va. Final assembly of the Iridium Next satellites will be performed by Orbital Sciences Corp. at its Gilbert, Ariz., facility.

Boeing spokeswoman Elizabeth Merida declined to disclose the contract’s value.