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Early calculations showed that 77 satellites would be needed, hence the name Iridium – after the metal with atomic number 77.

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The cellular look down antenna has 48 spot beams arranged as 16 beams in three sectors.

The four inter-satellite cross links on each satellite operate at 10 Mbit/s.

The design was complete by 2010, and Iridium stated that the existing constellation of satellites would remain operational until Iridium NEXT is fully operational, with many satellites expected to remain in service until the 2020s, while the NEXT satellites would have improved bandwidth.

The new system was to be backward-compatible with the current system.

In June 2010, the winner of the contract was announced as Thales Alenia Space, in a $2.1 billion deal underwritten by Compagnie Française d'Assurance pour le Commerce Extérieur. One processor is dedicated to each cross-link antenna ("HVARC"), and two processors ("SVARC"s) are dedicated to satellite control, one being a spare.

Late in the project an extra processor ("SAC") was added to perform resource management and phone call processing.

Insufficient market demand existed for the product at the price points on offer from Iridium as set by its parent company Motorola.

The company failed to earn revenue sufficient to service the debt associated with building out the constellation and Iridium went bankrupt, the largest bankruptcy in US history at the time.

Optical links could have supported a much greater bandwidth and a more aggressive growth path, but microwave cross links were chosen because their bandwidth was more than sufficient for the desired system.

Nevertheless, a parallel optical cross link option was carried through a critical design review, and ended when the microwave cross links were shown to support the size, weight and power requirements allocated within the individual satellite's budget.

Iridium Communications, the successor company to Iridium SSC, has ordered a total of 81 new satellites being built by Thales Alenia Space and Orbital ATK, which includes a number of ground spares.

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