Quietly, but not so secretly to most of the World, the Iridium network is replacing its entire constellation of satellites. This older fleet of satellites were all in degrading Low-Earth Orbit (LEO), and brought down into the upper atmosphere to burn up far from the surface of the planet. The were able to set up this NEXT system with minimal launch and re-entry vehicles from Earth.
In realtime on 18JAN19, Friday 17:10 PST new Iridium NEXT satellites head into orbit (RED). Many are being launched from single payloads.
There has been a steady competition over the last decade for SOLAS treaty ships in the most remote seas regions to use either Inmarsat or Iridium networks for safety and emergency communication. It is not just commercial shipping, or transportation. It is for tourism as well. Fewer people are traveling buy jet, the alternative being on cruises and passenger/freighter. Many new tours are beginning in in Polar regions, as well.
This is the first time an Earth-based communication network has replaced, not one, not two, but the entire network of 66-70 satellites. Called NEXT, it is the space-equivalent of replacing all 3G cellphone relays and towers to 4G on Earth, everywhere.
It is also the first-time, that the older network and associated SPACE JUNK were mostly eliminated, reducing clutter.
THIS IS STILL A PROBLEM WITH ALL SATELLITES!
The scenario in Gravity (2013 poster below) of space junk bringing down the I.S.S. is more real than ever and more possible.
More than 500,000 pieces of debris, or “space junk,” are “tracked” in LEO as they orbit the Earth. They all travel at speeds up to 17,500 mph, fast enough for a relatively small piece of orbital debris to damage a satellite or a spacecraft.
The rising population of space debris increases the potential danger to all space vehicles, but especially to the International Space Station, space shuttles and other spacecraft with humans aboard.
“NASA takes the threat of collisions with space debris seriously and has a long-standing set of guidelines on how to deal with each potential collision threat. These guidelines, part of a larger body of decision-making aids known as flight rules, specify when the expected proximity of a piece of debris increases the probability of a collision enough that evasive action or other precautions to ensure the safety of the crew are needed.” -NASA
In the event, while there are “guidelines” to dispose of broken or worthless debris, no one enforces them. This may be a step in the right direction in keeping space junk to a minimum and in replacing old technology and networks en toto with new systems.