Iridium Communications has signed a contract with launch services company Relativity Space to deploy satellites to orbit.

Under the contract, Relativity Space will deliver up to six Iridium’s ground spare satellites to low-Earth orbit (LEO) using its 3D-printed launch vehicle, Terran 1.

The launches are not expected to take place before 2023, depending on Iridium’s requirements.

Iridium Communications CEO Matt Desch said: “The upgraded Iridium satellite constellation is operating incredibly well, but it’s prudent to have a cost-effective launch option available for future spare delivery.

“Relativity’s Terran 1 fits our launch needs to LEO well from both a price, responsiveness and capability perspective. And we know based on our previous experience that there are great benefits to engaging with a provider early on during the development of the launch vehicle and it evolving around our particular needs.”

In January 2019, Iridium completed the second-generation constellation consisting of 66 operational satellites and nine in-orbit spares.

The company manufactured an additional six satellites as ground spares that remain in storage.

Relativity’s robotic 3D printing technology is capable of launching within months.

Relativity Space CEO and co-founder Tim Ellis said: “Iridium offers critical communications over the planet’s entire surface and we are very proud to be their launch partner that supports this capability.

“As the first 3D-printed launch vehicle, Terran 1 offers uniquely disruptive flexibility, cost, and performance advantages, especially for medium-payload missions that need dedicated launches.”

In September last year, Iridium Communications selected France-based firm Thales to provide aviation services for Iridium Certus.