The mobile satellite services provider Iridium has ordered 81 spacecraft to upgrade its global network.

Thales Alenia Space of France will build the satellites – 66 to form the operational constellation, the remainder to act as spares.

The order makes the Iridium Next venture the biggest commercial space project in the world today.

The $2.1bn deal has largely been underwritten by the French export credit guarantee organisation, Coface. The overall cost of the Iridium Next project is likely to be about $2.9bn, much of which the company expects to finance out of its own cash flow…

Iridium, which allows subscribers to make a phone call and data connection anywhere in the world, began operating in 1998 but soon ran into financial difficulties.

It was purchased out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2000 by investors who paid a fraction of the cost of setting up the first constellation.

Today, the company, which is based in McLean, Virginia, has about 360,000 subscribers worldwide, earning revenues amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars. Just under a quarter of those revenues come from US government and Department of Defense contracts.

Rock on, Iridium. Most geeks only remember the failure of the original company and haven’t a clue about the current successes.

Wow, never knew that there were doing things quietly behind the scenes. Good to know they are on their way out of the woods.