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Last week’s SpaceX launch successfully put 10 Iridium NEXT satellites (with dozens of Xilinx FPGAs) into low-earth orbit

Xilinx Employee
Xilinx Employee
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The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket put the first ten Iridium NEXT global comms satellites into LEO (low-earth orbit) last Saturday from Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. (Iridium orbits are 476 miles or 780km above the earth.) Iridium partnered with Thales Alenia Space for the manufacturing, assembly, and testing of 81 Iridium NEXT satellites. Ultimately, there will be 66 cross-linked satellites in the Iridium NEXT constellation—with spares, there will be more than 70 satellites in orbit—which will provide global point-to-point communications over every square inch of the earth’s surface.



Iridium NEXT.jpg



These new satellites will dramatically increase the Iridium network’s bandwidth. Iridium Certus, the next-generation multi-service communications platform enabled by Iridium NEXT, will deliver faster speeds and higher throughputs across multiple industry verticals including maritime, aviation, land mobile, M2M, and government comms markets.


Each of the ten Iridium NEXT satellites in this launch incorporates several Xilinx space-grade Virtex-5QV FPGAs used to implement the satellites’ On Board Processor (OBP) hardware developed by SEAKR Engineering. (Space-grade Virtex-5QV FPGAs are the radiation-hardened version of commercial Xilinx Virtex-5 FPGAs and were developed under sponsorship by AFRL's Space Vehicles Directorate.)


Here’s a short video describing the new Iridium NEXT constellation:





Why boost FPGAs into a space-based comms application? “The re-configurability of Xilinx’s space-grade Virtex-5QV FPGA enables Iridium NEXT to continue in-orbit integration of future advancements and innovations throughout its operational lifetime, providing scalability and flexibility for potential new applications not yet envisioned,” said Eric Anderson, president at SEAKR Engineering.



Here’s a 3-minute video clip of Saturday’s SpaceX launch of the Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Iridium NEXT satellites into LEO:






And just because it’s really, really cool, here’s a short clip of the Falcon 9 rocket’s first-stage re-entry and its successful tail-first landing on its drone ship “Just Read the Directions” in the Pacific Ocean: