AST SpaceMobile got an experimental permit on May 2 to perform testing on BlueWalker 3, the prototype satellite for its intended cellphone-fit broadband constellation, in the U.S. The Federal Communications Commission has granted the corporation permission to link unmodified cellular devices in Hawaii and Texas to BlueWalker 3 for a few minutes per day.
BlueWalker 3 will be launched into low Earth orbit (LEO) on the Falcon 9 rocket alongside other passengers, according to SpaceX. BlueWalker 3 will link to phones in the US via cellular frequencies, then employ spectrum in Q and V bands to send communications back to ground-based gateways, according to AST SpaceMobile.
“We want to use the BlueWalker 3 satellite to configure our software and other technologies relevant to the network core,” Scott Wisniewski, who works as the chief strategy officer at AST SpaceMobile told SpaceNews. “Such coverage should also allow people to experiment with a variety of cellular broadband applications, such as messaging, phone, and data.”
BlueWalker-3 is going to have a phased array antenna, measuring 64-square-meter, packed for launch and released in orbit, allowing it to link with unmodified 5G, 4G, and 2G phones from miles away. BlueWalker 3 is a significantly smaller version of the company’s projected operational BlueBird satellites, which AST SpaceMobile is developing in-house, weighing roughly 1,500 kg. Each BlueBird is going to have a mass “well north” of BlueWalker 3 and a larger FOV (field of view), according to Wisniewski.
In April 2019, AST SpaceMobile launched BlueWalker 1, its first test satellite, which was also manufactured in-house, to evaluate the company’s satellite-to-cellular architecture utilizing the 4G-LTE wireless protocol.
AST SpaceMobile and SpaceX inked a launch contract on March 8 that does include a milestone payment for the company’s first operational BlueBird satellite, which is scheduled to launch in 2023, as well as a reservation for a second BlueBird mission. The agreement establishes a framework for placing an order of additional SpaceX launches that will last until the close of 2024 and enables AST SpaceMobile to postpone deployments after having settled the rebooking cost.
Other launch providers are still being considered by AST SpaceMobile for the deployment of BlueBird satellites. By the end of 2024, the business hopes to have launched 110 satellites to provide “significant global” mobile coverage. “We’re building BlueBirds to work with a variety of large launch vehicles capable of launching multiple operational satellites into orbit,” Wisniewski added.
According to Wisniewski, the company plans to deploy further 58 satellites in the year 2025 to enhance services by enabling Many-Input Multiple-Output (MIMO) capabilities, which is a technology that uses multiple receivers and transmitters to carry more data simultaneously. At full capacity, AST Space Mobile’s Texas manufacturing facilities can construct up to 6 BlueBird satellites every month.