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The original concept was to have 77 satellites, which is where the name Iridium came from, being the element with the atomic number 77 and the satellites evoking the Bohr model image of electrons orbiting around the Earth as its nucleus.

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.

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

It turned out that just 66 were required to complete the blanket coverage of the planet with communication services.

Cross-seam inter-satellite link hand-offs would have to happen very rapidly and cope with large Doppler shifts; therefore, Iridium supports inter-satellite links only between satellites orbiting in the same direction.

The constellation of 66 active satellites has 6 orbital planes spaced 30° apart, with 11 satellites in each plane (not counting spares).

The constellation continued following the bankruptcy of the original Iridium corporation.

A new entity emerged to operate the satellites and developed a different product placement and pricing strategy, offering communication services to a niche market of customers who required reliable services of this type in areas of the planet not covered by traditional geosynchronous orbit communication satellite services.

The Iridium satellite constellation provides voice and data coverage to satellite phones, pagers and integrated transceivers over the entire Earth surface.

Iridium Communications owns and operates the constellation, additionally selling equipment and access to its services.

The constellation consists of 66 active satellites in orbit, required for global coverage, and additional spare satellites to serve in case of failure.

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