Mobile satellite service firm Iridium unveiled plans this week for a next-generation satellite constellation, dubbed “Iridium Next,” that would replace Iridium’s existing system and that would give Iridium the ability to offer advanced services such as environmental monitoring, earth photography, and geographic positioning. Iridium’s announcement at the Satellite 2007 conference in Washington, D.C. follows on rival Globalstar’s recent disclosure of technical difficulties affecting its mobile satellite network that could impact Globalstar’s ability to offer uninterrupted service starting next year. Launched in 1998, Iridium’s existing network of 66 satellites provides a baseline speed of 2.4 Kbps that supports voice calls, e-mail, and certain data services. Iridium’s next-generation system, to be based on Internet-protocol technology, would offer speeds up to 10 Mbps that would support a suite of advanced broadband services that include the monitoring of environmental factors such as temperature and ocean levels, photography, and global positioning data that is accurate within feet or inches. Iridium’s current network is expected to reach the end of its useful life in 2014, and officials hope to begin launching new replacement satellites, in batches of six, starting in 2013. The company also expects to complete the $2 billion project in 2016.