2011 Subscribers
More Subscribers in 2008
More Subscribers in 2004
DoD Contract Renewed
Five Spares Launched
Iridium Restarts
Iridium Has New Owners
Iridium Providing Scientific Data
Iridium Off the Air
Iridium on the ropes?
Iridium reports year-end results
Service start delayed
Iridium replacement launches underway
First launch
Flares (Visual observation)


IRIDIUM Corporate webpage.

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At the end of 2011, Iridium had 523,000 total billable subscribers, which compares to 427,000 for the year-ago period and 508,000 for the quarter ended September 30, 2011.

In October 2008, the FCC granted Iridium exclusive access to 1617.775 to 1618.725 MHz and shared access to 1618.725 to 1626.5 MHz, based on a sharing plan set out in November 2007.

Iridium reported 320,000 subscribers at the end of 2008, up from 234,000 at the end of 2007.

At the end of 2004 Iridium Satellite announced that they had 114,000 subscribers, an increase of 22.5% over the total at the end of 2003. Revenue was up by a similar amount.

2005 promises to bring a couple of interesting additions -- netted voice communications, similar to Nextel's Direct Connect service, and short data burst service with broadcast capability.

Iridium claims their satellites are good through 2014, despite their original 7-year design lifespan. It's not clear whether there's sufficient capital to build and launch replacement satellites in time to keep the constellation operational, although combat operations in the Middle East have driven Iridium usage up from pre-2003 levels.

In January 2003 the Department of Defense renewed their contract with Iridium for another year of service. The contract provides for unlimited airtime for about 20,000 users.
Five additional Iridium satellites were launched in February 2002, to be used as spares, joining 73 existing satellites. Seven spares were already in orbit.
Iridium Satellite LLC officially re-launched its commercial service on 30 March 2001.

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has assigned area codes +881 6 and +881 7 to Iridium Satellite LLC.

ITU lists an Iridium test number as +881 6 311 10006.

The assets of the old Iridium were bought for $25 million in December 2000. The new Iridium plans to focus on government customers, especially after signing a two-year, $72 million contract for 20,000 Department of Defense employees. The company estimates it will cost about $7 million a month to provide service, which includes fees to Boeing for operating the constellation.

The DoD likes the Iridium systen because the satellites can transfer calls from one satellite to another. What this means is that someone in the middle east can take their Iridium phone and make a call up to the satellite overhead, bounce the call from satellite to satellite, and have it come down at a dedicated ground station in Hawaii. Other satellite systems have to bounce the call right back down to a local gateway, where it can be intercepted or blocked by whomwever controls the gateway.

The new chairman, Don Colussy, expects to have a staff of about 60, and indicated that about 175 former Motorola employees transferred to Boeing to maintain the network. He expects to be able to break even as a niche company at around 60,000 customers. Colussy identified Syncom Management Company out of Silver Spring, Maryland, as a source of venture capital.

Iridium service was launched on November 1, 1998.
Iridium went into bankruptcy on August 13, 1999.
Since February 1999, Iridium system operators have been providing magnetic field fluctuation data to the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab (JHUAPL) in Laurel, Maryland. This data is used to compute, among other things, the position, strength and direction of flow for auroral currents -- electrical charges carried in by the solar wind.

The world's first global handheld satellite telephone system was a business failure. At midnight on March 17, 2000, Iridium shut off service to their 55,000 customers. With $4.4 billion in debt, a growing number of lawsuits, and reluctance of the part of parent and investor Motorola, Iridium could find no way to continue.

Radio astronomers are happy, since the Iridium frequencies between 1610 and 1626.5 MHz also happen to be a spot in the spectrum where they do a lot of deep space listening.

Visual astronomers and amateur observers may also find some interesting developments in the sky over the next two years as Iridium de-orbits their 70+ satellites.

It will also be interesting to see what the U.S. Government does with the thousands of now-useless Iridium phones, and the complete earth station that they (really you, the taxpayer) bought in Hawaii.


IRIDIUM is struggling to avoid bankruptcy as it revamps its marketing and sales efforts in the wake of several high-level executive departures and poor customer acceptance.

Chief Executive Officer Edward Staiano, a former Motorola executive, resigned in April, soon after Chief Financial Officer Roy Grant left for "personal reasons." Shortly after leaving, Staiano sold about 75,000 shares of Iridium stock worth $1.1 million.

At the end of March, 1999, the $5 billion satellte system had 10,294 subscribers, far short of the 500,000 needed to reach break-even. The interest alone on Iridium's debt is more than $40 million per month.


At the end of 1998 IRIDIUM reported a total of 3,000 subscribers after two months of commercial operation, although the types of customers and total system usage were not released.

Motorola is struggling to produce and distribute Iridium phones, 35,000 of which were manufactured by the end of 1998. Phones build by Kyocera reportedly do not yet meet quality standards and are not available to customers.

Fourth quarter 1998 losses were $440 million.


The long-held start date of September 23, 1998, slipped more than a month as Iridium CEO Dr. Ed Staiano announced a November 1, 1998, start date during a conference call on September 9. Dr. Staiano blamed a "lack of mileage" and insufficient testing on the system as the reason for the delay.

Other notes from the call:

The September 8 launch of five satellites filled two holes in plane 6, but Staiano downplayed the previous space vehicle failures, saying Iridium had planned for as many as one failure every two months.

All twelve gateways, except China, are complete and processing calls.

2000 phones will be involved in subscriber trials slated to begin September 23, and 100,000 phones are expected to be in use by year-end.

Iridium is projected to be cash flow positive by the fourth quarter 1999.

As of September 9 the longest Iridium call was 40 minutes and involved four hand-offs.

Iridium may launch more spares into orbit rather than keeping them in a warehouse somewhere.

An Iridium phone is priced at $2795 from Motorola direct sales and boasts a talk time of 5.5 hours.

Iridium satellite lifetime is projected as 7.5 years due primarily to a limit on the number of battery charge cycles.


The Big LEO satellite system IRIDIUM has completed several replenishment launches to replace a number of failed satellites. Two satellites were launched from a Chinese Long March rocket on August 19, and five more went up on a Boeing Delta II from Vandenberg Air Force Base on September 8. Five satellites, four of which will be in-orbit spares, were launched aboard a Boeing Delta II on November 6. Another two went up from China a week before Christmas, bringing the total number of satellites in orbit to 86.

The May 17, 1998, launch of five satellites aboard a Boeing Delta II rocket marked the 15th and final scheduled launch for the global communications network. At that point 72 satellites were in orbit, however a variety of failures reduced the number of viable satellites to 67.

Motorola will operate and maintain the constellation from a center in Landsdowne, Virginia for at least the next five years. Engineers are working now to test and check out the satellites prior to the scheduled start of commercial service on September 23.


Launch Date Launch Site Vehicle Count
18 February 11, 2002 Vandenberg AFB
Boeing Delta II 5
20 June 12, 1998 Taiyuan Launch Center
Chinese Long March 2C/2D 2
19 December 19, 1998 Taiyuan Launch Center
Chinese Long March 2C/2D 2
18 November 6, 1998 Vandenberg AFB
Boeing Delta II 5
17 September 8, 1998 Vandenberg AFB
Boeing Delta II 5
16 August 19, 1998 Taiyuan Launch Center
Chinese Long March 2C/2D 2
15 May 17, 1998 Vandenberg AFB
Boeing Delta II 5
14 May 2, 1998 Taiyuan Launch Center
Chinese Long March 2C/2D 2
13 April 6, 1998 Baikonur Cosmodrome
Russian Proton 7
12 March 29, 1998 Vandenberg AFB
Boeing Delta II 5
11 March 25, 1998 Taiyuan Launch Center
Chinese Long March 2C/2D 2
10 February 18, 1998 Vandenberg AFB
Boeing Delta II 5
9 December 20, 1997 Vandenberg AFB
Boeing Delta II 5
8 December 8, 1997 Taiyuan Launch Center
Chinese Long March 2C/2D 2
7 November 8, 1997 Vandenberg AFB
Boeing Delta II 5
6 September 26, 1997 Vandenberg AFB
Boeing Delta II 5
5 September 13, 1997 Baikonur Cosmodrome
Russian Proton 7
4 August 20, 1997 Vandenberg AFB
McDonnell Douglas Delta II 5
3 July 9, 1997 Vandenberg AFB
McDonnell Douglas Delta II 5
2 June 18, 1997 Baikonur Cosmodrome
Russian Proton 7
1 May 5, 1997 Vandenberg AFB
McDonnell Douglas Delta II 5


The first five satellites of the IRIDIUM constellation reached orbit on May 5th, 1997. The McDonnell Douglas Delta II launch vehicle left Vandenberg Air Force Base's Space Launch Complex 2 at 7:55 am PST and deployed the space vehicles 63 minutes later.

This first launch was originally scheduled for several months earlier, but was put on hold due to the unexpected explosion (euphemistically referred to in some reports as a "mishap") of an almost identical Delta II rocket on January 17. Launch attempts earlier in May were delayed due to high upper-level winds.

The satellites will now undergo a series of tests as they are moved into their final orbit of 420 nautical miles.

Note that the Delta II was originally built by McDonnell-Douglas, but "MacDac" was acquired by Boeing late in 1997.


For any amateur astronomers out there thay might want to catch a glimpse of an Iridium satellite, this page has some very useful information regarding the visual observation of "flaring" Iridium satellites.

Send mail to Dan Veeneman
Updated April 19, 2012