AST SpaceMobile announced Monday (November 14) that its BlueWalker 3 satellite prototype had deployed its array. The milestone comes about two months after the launch of BlueWalker 3 into orbit on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, along with a series of SpaceX’s Internet Starlink satellites.
AST SpaceMobile considers BlueWalker 3 equipment the largest commercial communications array ever deployed in low earth orbit; its floor area is 693 square feet (64 square meters), or roughly the size of a small apartment.
Related: SpaceX and OneWeb tell FCC that their broadband megaconstellations can coexist
That large size is needed to test the space-based cellular broadband service that AST SpaceMobile wants to offer. The company is engaged in an ongoing race for direct-to-cell phone service that also involves SpaceX, OneWeb and Amazon, just to name a few of the most prominent examples.
“Every person should have the right to access cellular broadband, no matter where they live or work. Our goal is to fill the connectivity gaps that negatively impact billions of lives around the world,” said Abel Avellan. president and CEO of AST SpaceMobile, in a statement (opens in a new tab) Monday (November 14). The company was not immediately available to comment on the success of the distribution when asked by Space.com.
BlueWalker 3 is an explorer for AST SpaceMobile’s planned “Bluebird” satellites, which will use arrays of similar size to interface directly with cell phones. Some astronomers have said that the size of each array could contribute to light pollution problems in orbit, concerns that have also been voiced about megaconstellations like SpaceX’s Starlink, which consists of more than 3,200 spacecraft and continues to grow. (In 2020, NASA raised concerns that AST SpaceMobile satellites could also increase the ever-increasing risk of in-orbit collisions.)
More than 100 Bluebird satellites are expected to be in flight by 2024. Astronomers from the Vera Rubin Observatory and the International Astronomical Union were among those who sounded warnings about the constellation’s potential effect on observing the dark sky, Sky & Telescope reported. (opens in a new tab) in the month of September. New scientist (opens in a new tab) he added that the test satellite BlueWalker 3 could even eclipse the brightest planet (Venus) in Earth’s night sky. (AST SpaceMobile’s view on the matter was not quoted in either article.)
In the hours following its deployment, BlueWalker 3 was easily spotted in a series of Portuguese meteor cameras, an astronomer reported on Twitter, and other scientists intervened with their own concerns.
Related: Challenge for astronomy: megaconstellations become the new light pollution
BlueWalker 3 is bright enough to be captured by ordinary meteor cameras. Here it is seen by the Portuguese station #globalmeteornetwork PT0002 (the light strip near the center, this is an image with a maximum pixel of 10 seconds). pic.twitter.com/VVLtYbxOvINovember 12, 2022
Why # BlueWalker3 by @AST_SpaceMobile is a Bad idea: 1 – The radio service they are using has no standing in international law, 2 – The use of large bright satellites affects everyone on the planet and limits the use of the Earth for astronomy. Not investment advice, common sense. pic.twitter.com/jptDbg1Z5SNovember 12, 2022
Delays aside, the @AST_SpaceMobile satellite prototype launch window is open. Once launched, the object could be * very * bright in the twilight sky. Its brightness should be measured as soon as possible after launch.https: //t.co/cVoFp18aQQAugust 17, 2022
In the coming months, AST SpaceMobile will launch a test program on six continents with different network operators (such as Vodafone), as long as it continues to secure the necessary regulatory approvals, company representatives said in the release.
Other mobile network operators in the program include, but are not limited to, Rakuten Mobile, AT&T, Bell Canada, Telecom Argentina, Africell, Liberty Latin America and Orange, which cover a potential 1.8 billion existing subscribers, AST SpaceMobile added. .
Other companies are jumping on board the cellular space trend, with Lynk planning to test an experimental 5G cellular base station as soon as December, if the previous October predictions are realized. Lynk has a plan approved by the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to test it. Its biggest competitor, SpaceX, has a deal in principle with T-Mobile that was announced this summer, despite not having received FCC approval yet.
Elizabeth Howell is the co-author of “Because I’m taller (opens in a new tab)? “(ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a book on space medicine. Follow her on Twitter @howellspace (opens in a new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in a new tab) or Facebook (opens in a new tab).