from the bluebird-bluebird-calling-me-far-away dept.
AST SpaceMobile, a five-year-old company, based in Midland, Texas, has received a green light from the US Federal Communications Commission to test a satellite that could provide cellular broadband connectivity for smartphone users in the US and around the globe.
The company says it's building the first and only space-based cellular broadband network designed to be accessible directly by standard mobile phones. Its planned network, called SpaceMobile, aims to deliver 4G/5G connectivity everywhere on the planet – on land, at sea and in flight. Mobile subscribers would be able to automatically roam from land networks to the space-based network, no matter their location.
The license from the Federal Communications Commission permits the company to connect unmodified cellular devices in Texas and Hawaii with BlueWalker 3 for up to several minutes daily.
SpaceX is slated to launch BlueWalker 3 to low Earth orbit on a Falcon 9 rocket with other passengers.
[...] "The BlueWalker 3 satellite would give us about five minutes of coverage in most areas around the world every day, which we plan to use to configure our software and other systems related to the network core," AST SpaceMobile chief strategy officer Scott Wisniewski told SpaceNews.
"Such coverage should also provide opportunities to explore numerous uses of cellular broadband, including texting, voice, and data applications."
Something tells me the cost of an iridium plan will be dropping soon.
At around 1,500-kilograms, BlueWalker 3 is a much smaller version of the company's planned operational BlueBird satellites AST SpaceMobile is building in-house. Each BlueBird will have a mass "well north" of BlueWalker 3, Wisniewski said, and have a larger field of view.
[...] The company expects to have deployed 110 satellites by the end of 2024 to achieve "substantial global" mobile coverage.
"We're designing BlueBirds for compatibility with numerous large launch vehicles that could deploy multiple operational satellites into orbit," Wisniewski said.
The prototype of a new constellation of extremely bright Earth-orbiting satellites is due to launch in early- to mid-September. The AST SpaceMobile company plans to orbit more than 100 of these spacecraft by the end of 2024. Astronomers at the Vera Rubin Observatory and the International Astronomical Union's Centre for the Protection of Dark and Quiet Skies from Satellite Constellation Interference (IAU CPS) are concerned because these new spacecraft will interfere with celestial observations, adding to the problems already caused by other constellations.
The first member of this new group, called BlueWalker 3, will feature a giant antenna array covering an area of 64 square meters (689 square feet). Observers on the ground will see bright sunlight reflected from this structure. After on-orbit tests of BlueWalker 3 are completed, the operational satellites, called BlueBirds, will be launched. BlueBirds may produce even more glaring light pollution since they are significantly larger. The commercial appeal of these satellites is that they will link directly to cell phones without the need of a cell tower. AST SpaceMobile has already secured a license from the Federal Communications Commission to test the prototype.
[...] Other bright satellites are waiting in the wings: 30,000 second-generation Starlink satellites are currently awaiting FCC approval. Like the BlueBirds, the new Starlinks may carry antennas for direct connection to cell phones; the antennas are slightly smaller at "only" 25 square meters, but the satellites would be far more numerous than the BlueBird constellation. That development would be very bad news for astronomy.