Iridium (satellite)

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The Iridium satellite constellation is a large group of satellites used to provide voice and data coverage to satellite phones, pagers and integrated transceivers over Earth's entire surface. Iridium Communications Inc. owns and operates the constellation and sells equipment and access to its services.

The constellation operates 66 active satellites in orbit to complete its constellation and additional spare satellites are kept in-orbit to serve in case of failure.[1] Satellites are in low Earth orbit at a height of approximately 485 mi (781 km) and inclination of 86.4°. Orbital velocity of the satellites is approximately 17,000 mph (27,000 km/h). Satellites communicate with neighboring satellites via Ka band inter-satellite links. Each satellite can have four inter-satellite links: two to neighbors fore and aft in the same orbital plane, and two to satellites in neighboring planes to either side. The satellites orbit from pole to pole with an orbit of roughly 100 minutes. This design means that there is excellent satellite visibility and service coverage at the North and South poles, where there are few customers. The over-the-pole orbital design produces "seams" where satellites in counter-rotating planes next to one another are traveling in opposite directions. Cross-seam inter-satellite link hand-offs would have to happen very rapidly and cope with large Doppler shifts; therefore, Iridium supports inter-satellite links only between satellites orbiting in the same direction.



The satellites each contain seven Motorola/Freescale PowerPC 603E processors running at roughly 200 MHz,[2] connected by a custom backplane network. One processor is dedicated to each cross-link antenna ("HVARC"), and two processors ("SVARC"s) are dedicated to satellite control, one being a spare. Late in the project an extra processor ("SAC") was added to perform resource management and phone call processing.

The cellular look down antenna has 48 spot beams arranged as 16 beams in three sectors.[3] The four inter-satellite cross links on each satellite operate at 10 Mbit/s. The inventors of the system had previously worked on a government study in the late 1980s that showed that microwave cross links were simpler and had fewer risks than optical cross links. Although optical links could have supported a much greater bandwidth and a more aggressive growth path, microwave cross links were favored because the bandwidth was more than sufficient for the desired system. Nevertheless, a parallel optical cross link option was carried through a critical design review, and ended when the microwave cross links were shown to support the size, weight and power requirements allocated within the individual satellite's budget. In recent press releases, Iridium Satellite LLC has stated that their second generation satellites would also use microwave, not optical, inter-satellite communications links. Such cross-links are unique in the satellite telephone industry, as other providers do not relay data between satellites.

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