We’ve recently had several inquiries from our customers regarding the recent major “solar storm” and whether we should expect any impact on the Iridium constellation. Solar storms generate increased radiation which can cause issue with satellites and even some terrestrial electrical systems.
First of all, solar storms are not all that unusual as we’ve experienced many of them during the 14 years the satellite constellation has been deployed. The Iridium constellation is a Low- Earth Orbiting (LEO) satellite system rather than the more common fixed High Earth Orbit or Geosynchronous satellite constellations. By their very nature, LEO constellations are much less susceptible to solar flare ups than the geosynchronous variety of constellation. Also, due to the robust design of the iridium constellation, our system default detection and mitigation processes and the altitude at which our birds fly, we have minimal concern over these kinds of phenomena.
What many people don’t realize, although it was announced last August in conjunction with the U.S. National Science Foundation, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab and Boeing, is that the Iridium constellation is actually part of the world’s first real-time solar detection system. As part of “AMPERE” (the Active Magnetosphere and Planetary Electrodynamics Response Experiment), Iridium satellites actually contain sensors that enable 24-hour tracking of Earth’s response to supersonic sun plasma blasts. These sensors provide data tracking which allow for more dynamic and realistic predictions of space weather effects. Iridium is proud to be a part of this advanced solution– an excellent example of the important, unique, global data collection capability that we enable today and plan to continue to deliver through Iridium NEXT.
All Iridium satellites are designed with a high degree of on-board subsystem resiliency, an on-board fault detection system, and isolation and recovery capabilities. Our constellation is monitored 24/7 by a talented and experienced operations team. Iridium satellites were originally launched with far more fuel than required for normal operation, so fuel is not a concern. All satellite components are “hardened” against radiation exposure, and we are fortunate that our low orbit (780 km) experiences relatively low degrees of radiation. Finally, we benefit from a new operational regime with the U.S. Air Force, which gives us increased ability to monitor significant space debris and decreases our chances of having another collision in space.
Confidence in the Iridium constellation’s health remains high. We are proud of the reliable, critical communications lifelines that we provide on Earth…and in space….today as well as those we will realize in the next generation of Iridium satellites. Iridium appreciates your ongoing support of our team, our services and, finally, our amazing network.