The Iridium Flare Era is About to End

Universe Today | 3/15/2019 | Staff
fofo (Posted by) Level 3
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You never forget your first one. I remember reading about a curious new set of flaring satellites, known as Iridiums. This was waaaaay back in the late 1990s, when we still occasionally read things in something called magazines, which involved pressing ink into plant-flesh to convey information.

Fast-forward to 2019, and the age of the predictable Iridium flare may be coming to an end. Already, scrolling through Heavens-Above reveals very few Iridium flares for the coming months, and these familiar nighttime flashes may become a thing of the past come the end of the decade in 2020.

Spate - Iridium - Reentries - Aerospace - Cooperation

The current spate of Iridium reentries have been coming nearly daily now. Looking at the Aerospace Cooperation’s reentry page shows Iridiums SV32, SV59, SV91 and SV14 have all reentered the Earth’s atmosphere in March 2019 alone, and Iridium-60 is due to reenter this weekend.

Launched in batches from 1997 to 2002, the constellation of 66 Iridium satellites plus 32 on-orbit spares and 4 dummy test masses were conceived by Motorola, placed in low Earth. At the time, the company envisioned that the constellation would pioneer the growth of personal satellite phone technology. In the end, however, the rise of cheap mobile phone towers worldwide at the turn of the millennium meant that satphone tech never really got past niche applications, such as emergency rescue and use by expeditions travelling to remote locations. Motorola’s Iridium company declared bankruptcy in 1999, and a group of private investors bought the constellation of satellites. Later, the control was taken up by Iridium Communications. The dream of accessible mobile communication worldwide may still come to pass, as OneWeb carried out its first successful launch in early 2019.

Worldwide - Coverage - Iridium - Satellites - Wikimedia

Worldwide coverage for the Iridium satellites. Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain.

These satellites came with a perk for amateur satellite spotters: three large, refrigerator-sized reflective panels that could...
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